Immigration Nation Column: Obama's actions not unprecedented with his presidential responsibilities

“Our nation is a nation of immigrants. More than any other country, our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands.”

This is the same message heard over and over from those amnesty-loving liberals who just want to sing “Kumbayah” while holding hands with undocumented immigrants. Don’t they understand that the American melting pot is full?

In fact, this quote comes from Rush Limbaugh’s homeboy former President Ronald Reagan. He made the remark in 1981, just before signing an executive order that allowed 7,000 anti-communist Polish immigrants to remain in the U.S. without full citizenship. Six years later, the famously conservative president used an executive order to defer the deportation of undocumented children whose parents had applied for legal status under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.

Curious. How could a Republican president stray so far from the GOP’s traditional path to citizenship — which is quite easy to navigate, provided that you are an English-speaking official from the Department of Homeland Security?

Reagan is not the only conservative president in recent memory to direct immigration policy from the White House. In 1990, former President George H. W. Bush ordered his administration to defer the deportation of 1.5 million undocumented spouses and children of individuals who had become legal under the very same 1986 law signed by Reagan. He issued the order in response to congressional failure to pass legislation that would have granted similar relief.

Sounds familiar, huh?

On Nov. 20, President Barack Obama issued an executive order that will allow undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary legal status if they have been in the U.S. for more than five years, have children who are citizens, pass a background check and agree to pay taxes.

“President Obama did not create a new law,” said Andy Silverman, professor at James E. Rogers College of Law and member of the Board of Directors for the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project. “He did not change or alter existing immigration statutes, and he did not make new ones.”

Like Reagan and Bush before him, Obama simply used his executive power to guide the implementation of statutes previously passed by Congress.

Yet despite the clear historical precedent for so-called “executive amnesty,” critics are decrying Obama’s move as a tyrannical abuse of power and an illegal act deserving of impeachment. They claim his executive order is fundamentally different from those issued by Reagan and Bush.

“People who are saying that misunderstand what Obama did,” Silverman said. “[His actions are] the same as saying, ‘We’re going to put our resources into deporting criminal noncitizens.’ … Obama is saying, ‘We’re not going to put resources into deporting people who have been here for a certain period of time and meet certain qualifications.’”

Silverman also noted the irony behind the lack of criticism around Obama’s using his power to deport criminal undocumented immigrants compared to his using it to extend immigrant residence.

Haters have every right to disagree with Obama’s stance on immigration. They have the freedom to believe that American society will crumble under the weight of those foreigners who “steal jobs” from “fine American citizens.”

But they cannot claim his executive order is illegal.

“Obama’s order comes down to prosecutorial discretion, which has been conferred to him by Congress through its approval of Reagan’s action,” said Robert McWhirter, a Pima County Public Defender who has authored two books about immigration law. “If Congress doesn’t like what President Obama did, it should pass a law.”

And if Congress lacks the creativity to write an original piece of legislation, perhaps it can borrow words from Reagan, who issued the following statement upon signing the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986: “The legalization provisions in this act will go far to improve the lives of a class of individuals who now must hide in the shadows, without access to many of the benefits of a free and open society. Very soon, many of these men and women will be able to step into the sunlight and, ultimately, if they choose, they may become Americans.”

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Elizabeth Hannah is a biochemistry sophomore. Follow her on Twitter.


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