President Obama’s new immigration initiative was supposed to have begun accepting applications Feb. 18 from undocumented immigrants hoping to bring some relief from deportation and permission to work in the United States. The order would expand a program that protects young immigrants from deportation if they were brought here by their parents, who do not have papers.
The president’s earlier executive order of Nov. 20, 2014 would have extended deportation protection and issued temporary work permits to parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been in the country for some years following its implementation May 19.
Prior to last November President Obama had promised to act on immigration reform before the end of the summer of 2014. The order, however, was postponed by the president because he said he wanted to wait until after the Nov. 4 elections to avoid politicizing the issue of immigration.
But the president did politicize the issue using immigrants as pawns in his move to put forward a Democratic agenda and win votes for his party during those important elections.
The midterm elections were a landslide victory for the Republicans. Public opinion polls at that time showed the unpopularity of the idea of an executive order on immigration. In fact vulnerable Democratic candidates had spoken out against the move to avoid a backlash at the polls. For this reason the president decided to wait to move forward his executive order on immigration.
But on Monday evening, Feb. 16 — less than two days before the order was to begin — U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen ruled that the deferred-deportation program should be suspended since there was a pending lawsuit filed against it by 26 states challenging its legality and aiming to stop the orders permanently.
These numerous states have argued that Obama has violated the “Take Care Clause” of the United States Constitution, which limits the scope of presidential power, and that his executive actions would be difficult to undo once immigrants started applying for deferred action.
Hanen based his injunction on the elaborate rulemaking process of the Administrative Procedure Act, approximately 70 years old, that governs how federal agencies implement regulations including a 90-day notice and comment period. House Speaker John Boehner said that Monday’s ruling was not a surprise and it underscores that Obama had acted beyond his authority. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell agreed with the Boehner’s sentiments and acknowledged that Obama was ignoring the law and being unwise and unfair.
With the lower court judge blocking the order, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said that his agency would postpone plans to accept applications for the new program, which would expand a 2012 program that defers deportations of immigrant who came to the United States unlawfully as children. The White House plans to appeal the rulings of the U.S. District Court because the president is tired of waiting for Republicans to fix a broken immigration system. The Republicans insist that the president did not follow correct procedures in establishing his program.
Henan, an appointee of President George W. Bush, has taken a hard line on immigration issues, and has stated that President Obama’s plan would grant “legal presence and benefits to otherwise removable aliens.” These “removable” undocumented persons number about 5 million.
The ruling comes at a time when Congress is in a fight over funding for the Department of Homeland Security. Republicans have attempted to use funding for the department as a leverage to stop the administration’s effort to protect millions from deportation. This bill, which both funds the Department of Homeland Security and also abolishes the executive orders of 2012 and 2014 that provide protection for any undocumented persons especially children, seems to be stalled in the Senate in the face of united Democratic opposition.
Without a resolution by Feb. 28, many government employees would be furloughed while others would be forced to work without pay. Essentially the federal government would be shut down and there would be no funding for Homeland Security. The Republicans believe that their best chances of undermining the president’s actions are through the courts, giving lawmakers time to advance a spending bill without any immigration provisions.
The response by the Obama administration is to defend the president’s executive orders issued in November and to appeal Henan’s ruling which will be heard by the 5th Circuit of Appeals in New Orleans.
The appeal would delay the order in the court system for an indefinite amount of time resulting in a political impasse that would severely affect millions of immigrants in this country. This drama is playing out with the 2016 presidential election getting underway and candidates from both parties eager to win over the Latino voters.
Immigrants are confused and wondering how to proceed. They seem to be used by both ruling parties for their own agendas. Many immigrants — both children and adults — have been gathering documents but are fearful to apply to the government for a new status. Who are they to trust? Both parties are playing politics. Neither one is honestly dedicated to helping immigrants, who have built this nation.
These undocumented immigrants have been doing things right — studying, paying taxes, etc. They deserve an opportunity to live in the land of immigrants. We have seen firsthand the breakdown of families and the threat of separation of families due to deportations. The persons affected are, in fact, future leaders of our communities, parishes and nation. These persons are being told that they merely have to wait, that is, to continue to wait. Meanwhile each day more and more immigrants are deported and others have to continue to live in the shadows.
If the government is truly concerned about immigration then the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government and both political parties should work together for a comprehensive immigration policy that allows us to be a nation of laws and immigrants.
And all of us Americans should embrace the Gospel value of welcoming the stranger and support an immigration program that takes into consideration those who come who are “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” not one based on agendas and party gains.
Father Gus Puleo is pastor of St. Patrick Parish, Norristown.
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