With Congress unwilling to help, President Barack Obama is exploring his legal options for fixing immigration problems by executive order.
In the meantime, he should use the power he already has to stop undocumented immigrants from too-hasty deportations and harsh, unnecessary detentions.
Yes, the Rio Grande border must be secured to stop the influx of immigrants from Central America. But the United States is legally obligated to treat those who already are here fairly and to hear their pleas for asylum.
It’s also the moral thing to do.
The plenary power doctrine, which says that the legislative and executive branches have sole power to regulate immigration, gives Mr. Obama broad authority, said Stephen Yale-Loehr, co-author of the 20-volume “Immigration Law and Procedure,” and a professor of immigration law at Cornell University Law School.
The president has held off using that authority to give House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, time to round up support for immigration reform, only to come up empty-handed. In the face of this rebuke, Mr. Obama should act swiftly and decisively to help the immigrants already in this country.
He should immediately act to continue and expand a program for undocumented immigrants to temporarily stay in the United States to work or attend school. Many of these immigrants were brought here as kids and this program — which does not offer a path to legalization — offers an alternative to deportation.
The president also should make it easier for undocumented immigrants to enlist in the military. He should continue a practice used in some states that requires immigrants to wear ankle bracelets so they can be easily monitored or to check in weekly with immigration officials as alternatives to detention.
Mr. Yale-Loehr said the president is already prioritizing immigrant deportations and prosecutions, putting violent criminals at the top of both lists. He said that process could be fine-tuned to put immigrants who have U.S.-born children at the bottom of the list. The president should do this.
Mr. Obama’s plan to shift immigration enforcement resources from the nation’s interior to the south Texas border to help stem the surge of undocumented immigrants is a good one. Most of these immigrants are mothers and young children from Central America.
Congress should support enhanced border enforcement by giving Mr. Obama the $2 billion he has requested to further bolster efforts during the crisis.
But Congress should refuse the president’s request for authority to quickly deport the children who have arrived. Immigration activists have long accused the president of being too quick to deport undocumented workers. This latest request has fueled more outrage.
Many of these immigrants are here to escape high murder rates, gang violence and abject poverty in their Central American countries. Many of them have families in the United States and have come here seeking relatives.
Some are lured by rumors about lax deportation efforts regarding children who enter the United States. As a nation, we need to show these people compassion and at least hear their reasons for seeking asylum.
Just one year ago the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive bill on immigration that would have solved many of these issues. Political considerations, mostly among Republicans, caused the House to balk.
Their abdication leaves the president as the last resort for fair and compassionate treatment of immigrants. Congress left him a mess. Mr. Obama must ensure that immigrants who make it to the United States are given if not a home, then at least the fair and humane consideration in which this nation used to take pride.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.