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President Obama Immigration Reform Options: Executive Action Provides 'Temporary Protection' for Undocumented Immigrants Unless Congress Acts

First Posted: Oct 07, 2014 09:21 AM EDT

With midterm Election Day less than a month away, President Barack Obama's promised immigration executive action also approaches, potentially adding to the long list of executive actions on immigration enacted by American presidents since the 1950s.

According to the Center for American Progress, every U.S. president has issued an execution action on immigration since Congress passed its first comprehensive immigration legislation in 1952. Since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, 11 U.S. presidents enacted 39 executive actions on immigration, including the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by Obama.

As CAP noted, immigration executive actions by prior U.S. presidents have allowed people to temporarily remain in the country due to "unanticipated situations," such as Cubans escaping communism, Iranians fleeing from the revolution, Chinese natives following the Tiananmen Square massacre and Central Americans after a hurricane.

While Congress can rewrite laws and create a long-term solution to the current broken immigration system, CAP Immigration Policy Director Marshall Fitz told Latin Post that Obama has "extremely broad discretion" in determining how to enforce the law.

"All law enforcement agencies must prioritize the deployment of limited resources, and what the president is contemplating is just that: focusing the agency's resources on individuals who pose a threat to the safety of our communities and not on people with deep roots and connections to the U.S.," Fitz said.

Under DACA, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency approved 580,946 undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. DACA allows immigrant youths to stay in the U.S. for educational or work reasons for a renewable two-year period. The CAP immigration policy director said the expectation of Obama's imminent executive action is to extend deferred action to millions of "additional low-priority immigrants."

"This will enable the government to register these individuals while granting them a reprieve from removal and the opportunity to work lawfully for a temporary period. This type of action is not only within the president's legal authority, it is smart policy that will help stabilize communities and local economies while raising billions of dollars in payroll taxes," Fitz said.

A report by CAP senior policy analyst Philip E. Wolgin noted a $44.96 billion increase in payroll tax revenues could occur in the next five years if Obama grants deferred action to immigrants who have live in the U.S. for approximately five years. Despite the expectation and urge for Obama to expand deferred action, Fitz noted it would not be enough to solve the immigration system since it will only provide "temporary protection" and not help the entire undocumented immigrant population.

"It is therefore no substitute for legislation, but it is nonetheless a critical stepping-stone on the path to fixing our broken system. Congressional paralysis leaves the country struggling with the failing status quo. So it is the president's responsibility to take whatever actions are within his authority to begin the process of fixing the system," Fitz told Latin Post. "Hopefully Congress will follow his lead rather than try to block the progress he makes."

As Latin Post reported, in regards to the congressional gridlock on immigration reform, Obama told the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, "[I]f Congress failed to live up to its responsibilities to solve this problem, I would act to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, and I meant what I said. So this is not a question of if, but when."

The president said an immigration executive action could occur between the Nov. 4 midterm election and the end of the year. Although Obama did not specify or hint at what the executive action could entail, Obama said he'll spend the next "six to eight weeks" discussing the positives of immigration reform and relay its importance for the U.S. economy.

As Fitz acknowledged, Obama also said congressional legislation is the better approach for immigration reform, since action by the president can be reversed by his successor.

"To move beyond what I can do in a limited way, we are going to need legislation," Obama said. "And if we want that legislation to happen sooner rather than later, then there's one more thing I need you to do -- I've got to have you talk to your constituents and your communities, and you've got to get them out to vote."

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