This country's immigration system is broken, or at least that appears to be the prevailing wisdom of most anybody legally residing here. How to fix it, or even what to fix, is where different camps emerge.
Causing the most conversation of late has been President Barack Obama's executive order to temporarily grant reprieve from the threat of deportation to almost 5 million of the 12 million undocumented immigrants believed to be living in the U.S. This riled the tea party faction so much it was willing to force yet another government shutdown by voting against the omnibus temporary spending package. Thankfully there were more than enough members of Congress who did not agree with the tactic.
Still, there are a lot of different forces attempting to undo the president's action. Twenty-four states, including Kansas, have challenged the executive order in a federal lawsuit. The crux of their argument is Obama acted without "constitutional authority to abandon enforcement of various provisions of federal immigration law," wrote Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt in a press release. Simply put, the plaintiffs do not believe a president can unilaterally choose to ignore a law passed by Congress.
Despite the long-standing immigration problem, Congress has been hard-pressed to pass any meaningful reform for decades. And so, for decades, one president after another has issued executive orders to deal with various aspects of the debate including protecting the country's economic and security interests as well as trying to stabilize families and communities.
Since 1956, 39 different executive orders have come from all 11 presidents altering one portion or another of immigration policy. The American Immigration Council tracks all such executive branch decisions, and presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and now Obama all have issued them.
"Perhaps the most striking historical parallel to today's immigration challenges is the 'Family Fairness' policy implemented by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr.," the AIC reports on its website. Reagan had decreed by the same so-called fiat Obama is accused of using that all unauthorized immigrants could begin a path to legalization if they'd been continuously present in the U.S. for what was just shy of five years. That directive resulted in more than 3 million new U.S. citizens. Four years later, Bush issued an executive order to grant a blanket deferral for 1.5 million spouses and children of that first wave.
Many of the various presidents' individual directives were not as large as those two, and targeted particular populations from countries at war.
It matters not to us. What matters is executive order precedent exists, congressional inaction continues, jobs still await able-bodied workers willing to cross the border illegally, prosecutorial discretion is used daily at the federal level all the way down to the county attorney, and Lady Liberty still beckons the huddled masses.
One can't help but wonder whether all the backlash has anything to do with the executive order. Perhaps it has more to do with certain factions' feelings about the president or, worse, the immigrants themselves.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry