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The Truth About President Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration Reform

By Sen. Hank Sanders 

On Thursday, November 20, 2014, I made it my top priority to hear President Barack Obama address the nation and reveal his planned executive action on immigration reform.

I had to hear the President speak because this is a very important issue to me and for our nation.  I had spoken and written about immigration many times.  I had struggled against bad immigration bills in the Alabama Legislature and worked for years with others trying to persuade Congress to pass comprehensive immigration legislation.  These are just a few of the reasons why I was very interested and hopeful upon hearing what the President was going to say.

The President gave the speech from the Oval Office from what appeared to be the same spot where he stood when he announced the death of Bin Laden several years ago.  The President seemed tired around the eyes, but his voice was strong and grew even stronger as the speech went along.  In the end, he was waxing beautifully about family and hope and work and strangers and a nation of immigrants.

The President’s executive orders do the following:  (1) undocumented persons who have been in the United States for at least five years, have certain family relationships and have no criminal history will not be deported; (2) this deferral is temporary, lasting for three years; (3) the deportation deferral will not convey citizenship rights such as voting or access to certain governmental benefits; (4) the money saved from reduced deportation efforts will be used to strengthen border security; (5) these immigrants can now come out of the shadow,  get green cards to work and pay taxes; and (6) there is no amnesty.  It is estimated that some five million undocumented immigrants will benefit from this action.  This is the substance of the executive orders(s).

Before anyone had even seen the executive orders, some were already saying that the President’s orders were illegal or unconstitutional. Others were talking about putting the President in jail or impeaching him.  Still others were threatening violence in the street and some congresspersons were threatening to shut down the federal government or immobilize the legislative process.  However, as I listened, I kept asking myself over and over: Where is the illegality?  Where is the unconstitutionality?  Where is the basis for jail?  Where is the basis for impeachment?  Where is the basis for violence in the streets?  I was glad that I had seen and heard the President for myself to know what the executive orders actually contained.

It is well documented in some 39 immigration-related executive orders, former presidents have done what President Obama did.  In fact, Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan and Bush each used executive orders to implement immigration reform in similar fashions.  Reagan went much farther than President Obama, granting amnesty to 1.3 million undocumented immigrants.  There was no hot heat or fiery fire for President Reagan.  There certainly were no threats of jail or impeachment.  There were no slurs claiming an “imperial presidency.” I cannot forget that the Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order.

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Some congresspersons are now saying they will not work with the President on any other matters.  I do not see instances where these same people have ever worked with him prior to these executive orders.  I cannot forget that while this President was being sworn into office during his first inauguration, a group of powerful Republicans were meeting at the very same time devising plans to oppose everything he tried to do to ensure there were no successes during his presidency, regardless of how much their actions would hurt the country.   If they don’t work with the President now, it is not about helping the country but about stopping him from succeeding.

Congress has had six years during President Obama’s time in office to enact legislation.  They have not passed immigration reform.  The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill more than 500 days ago, and the House never even considered it.  Now that Republicans control both branches of Congress, they can pass legislation nullifying the actions of the President.  One would hope they will make the substance of the President’s executive orders permanent, with paths to citizenship.  Therefore, I say, “The President has acted.  Now Congress can act.”

Senator Hank Sanders is a Democrat from Selma.  He has served in the Alabama State Senate since 1983 and is currently serving his ninth term in office.

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