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Presidential immigration speech – Check or checkmate?

November 21, 2014

If you just arrived from somewhere over the rainbow and listened to the President’s speech last night, you might be excused for thinking that he was simply trying to solve a problem that many administrations and several generations of voters have grappled with for decades.

There is no doubt that when his head is in a speech the President can certainly deliver a good one. He hit most of the right buttons.

There was a nod to border security, a pathway to legal residency in the short term, a historical and emotional reference to the undeniable truth that we are all the product of what many Native Americans might view as illegal immigration, and the critical reference to the tax-producing potential of five or so million people who will now be required to pay taxes on legal employment.

He addressed the notion that this action will produce another flood of illegal entries with the five-year residency requirement to apply, and forestalled budgetary action by pointing out that each applicant has to pay the fee required to make application for a green card.

He said clearly that this action will not entitle this newly created group to any Federal benefits, but left open the question of state supplied benefits like educational costs, or whether the affected population would be eligible for things like state-paid unemployment insurance if they should be laid off from their now legal employment.

He also spoke passionately about how much he has focused on the problem, going clear back to his first inauguration.

Cynics might also point out that he has had six years to take this executive action or even try to forge a working relationship with the opposition on actual legislation.

You might buy the argument that when he had full control of the government in 2009-10, he did not get immigration reform legislation passed due to the other pressing matters at that time.

That still leaves you wondering why he didn’t take this action when House Speaker Boehner shelved the so-called bipartisan bill submitted by the Senate, apparently because it didn’t comprehensively or effectively address border security.

By taking this action in advance of the budget discussions and while his party still holds a majority in the Senate, he pretty much dumped the problem on the new Congress.

Even Speaker Boehner acknowledged that there isn’t a way to block funding for the mechanics necessary to make this happen, given that the agency responsible for processing the applications is fee-funded.

It will be interesting to see how many Federal grant and contract opportunities will pop up to “assist”  the potentially eligible population in “understanding and negotiating the process” before they ever get to the application stage. After all, it wouldn’t do much good to order five million extra green cards if no one could figure out how to get one.

That still leaves Republicans in the waning days of the 113th Congress pretty much stuck between a rock and a hard place.

They can match temper tantrum for temper tantrum and threaten to hold up the entire budget, but given the results of that tactic in 2013, it isn’t likely.

They can threaten to impeach the President, but that is a long drawn-out process that would probably not meet the current standard or precedent for “high crimes and misdemeanors”.

They can hope that some state or group will sue, but that still leaves them waiting for a lengthy court process that would not be complete prior to the all-out Run for the Rose Garden in 2016.

Once again, Americans of all backgrounds and conditions of legal residency will be held hostage to the ongoing political gamesmanship that is Washington’s real focus.

If you like chess, this is interesting. If chess isn’t your thing, it’s just annoying.

From → op-ed

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