Obama cannot afford to break another promise on immigration

Is President Obama about to delay his executive authority to make the immigration system work better until Congress acts?  

It’s an important question, especially in light of what he said on Labor Day.

“Hope” Obama declared “is what gives young people the strength to march for women’s rights and workers’ rights and civil rights and voting rights and gay rights and immigration rights.”

{mosads}Obama’s inclusion of “immigration rights” together with the epic struggles of American democracy – civil rights, women’s rights, voting rights, gay rights and workers’ rights – suggests he sees the struggle for immigration reform as an historic movement not tied to party or politics but inherent to the American democratic experience.

Notice the president used the term “immigration rights” not “immigrants’ rights”?

“Immigration rights” carries with it political, social and cultural significance while “immigrants’ rights” is a more direct reference to redress of rights through the courts.  “Immigration rights” on the other hand suggests something inherent; rights that may not yet be on the books, but are nevertheless embedded in our Constitution as are the rights of minorities, women, and LGBTs.

If the president truly views “immigration rights” with the same reverence he does the rights of minorities, women, and LGBTs then how can he morally, ethically or politically justify not using his constitutional authority to fix the system where he can?  Did President Kennedy, postpone confronting Gov. George Wallace at the University of Alabama when he tried to block the admission of African American students in 1962 before the enactment of the Civil Rights Act?

It’s also a question of integrity.  The president stood in the Rose Garden on June 30, lambasted the House GOP for refusing to take up immigration reform, and promised that he would “act without delay” once he received recommendations from the Department of Homeland Security.

It’s a promise Obama cannot afford to break.

Those words resonated loudly among Latino voters, nearly a quarter of whom have a relative or friend who’s been detained or deported by the Obama administration.  Latinos remember that in 2008 candidate Obama promised he would champion immigration reform during his first term in office, but then he broke his promise and deported two million people.  They remember that June 2012 when he needed support for his reelection, Obama apologized to the Latino community, granted a deportation reprieve to young undocumented immigrants, and again promised he would fix the immigration system if he was reelected. And Latinos remember that the president was reelected with over 70 percent of their vote. 

It’s true that the president is under pressure from some in his own party to wait until after the midterm election to act on immigration.  They believe it’s  the “safe” thing to do. But voters actually prefer politicians who keep their word, exercise leadership, and take chances over those who play it safe.  And the political considerations are far less salient than the moral imperative of doing what the President knows is right—using his executive authority to blunt the harshness of an outdated, rigid, anti-family immigration law. 

The president has been called the “Deporter-in-Chief,” and after six years of relentless deportations, his legacy is surely on the line.    If he wants to be remembered for an immigration record other than record deportations, he must keep his word to the American people and do what he can to make the immigration system work—without delay.

Leopold is an Ohio-based attorney and the former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).


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