Can Immigration Be Reformed By Executive Order?

Can Immigration Be Reformed By Executive Order?

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

The President’s gamble now on immigration reform by executive order will do two things for his Presidency. In addition to what it accomplishes for perhaps as many as 5 million people currently living in the United States in dubious or illegal status, the decision to proceed without statutory authority will be the boldest test yet for the Obama Presidency. Considering how skittish Obama has been over the past six years to take bold and affirmative steps that may be fraught with all types of political or diplomatic danger, this decision—should he actually go through with it—will constitute a dramatic shift in how the President has approached decision-making. (It should be noted that parts of it reportedly will only take effect in the spring; once again giving the President himself and Congress wiggle room.)

Obama is playing here to a major political constituency which supported him politically in both 2008 and 2012, but which left the Democratic Party in significant numbers in the recent-off-year congressional elections, at least in part due to his failure to deliver on immigration reform.   Second, the President is saying to the Democratic Party, especially those on the left, that he will deliver on his promise to reform the immigration process even while being threatened by the Republicans in Congress to confront him down the line over the next two years. This is true with any efforts which they might make to challenge him legislatively and legally.

The real issue for President Obama is whether he will truly proceed in implementing his sweeping new orders and tempt the Congress to try to overturn it statutorily. It also remains to be seen whether the President will be confronted by the outgoing Congress already after Thanksgiving when it faces the FY 2015 continuing resolution budget deadline on December 11. Alternatively, will the Congress challenge the President and threaten a Government shut-down over the national debt extension now that the President—in the eyes of the Republicans– has overstepped his authority in proceeding with his executive action to reform the immigration laws.

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