I don’t know how to feel about this latest episode in the long, convoluted, painfully overdue march toward comprehensive immigration reform.
President Obama has announced that he will be using executive orders to do what he can to change existing immigration policies and to react to the increasingly pressing situation along the United States’ southern border.
This decision comes as a result of what President Obama calls a “lost year,” in which the House of Representatives, under the leadership of Speaker John Boehner, has failed to pass a bill addressing our broken immigration system. With the House’s continuing inaction, the President is bypassing Congress, and will be using the authority of the Executive Branch to change what he can. And this is what I’m not sure about.
On the one hand, I’m sad to see the branch of government responsible for drafting and passing our country’s laws cut out of this process. Executive orders can be immediately reversed by succeeding Presidents, whereas acts of Congress have the benefit of both including the input of all of our nation’s federal elected officials, rather than just one, and are not as easily altered from one administration to the next.
On the other hand, I’m excited and relieved that the President is done waiting for the House of Representatives to pass a bill that they, or at least their leadership, have no interest in even voting on. But this optimism about the good that can be done through these executive actions is limited. A few orders from the Office of the President cannot and will not have nearly the impact that an bill passed by both houses of Congress would cause.
It is a start, at best.
Unfortunately, even this start doesn’t bode well for some of the reforms that Catholic activists support. NPR reports that the changes President Obama will pursue include sidestepping safeguards designed specifically to protect child migrants, which would effectively allow the government more latitude in deporting these minors.
Politically speaking, taking action against undocumented immigrants may score a few points among some groups of voters. And that in turn may allow the President the cover he needs to implement other reforms. But how about humanly speaking? Or Christianly?
Where is the consideration in these reforms that recognizes our (much younger, oftentimes) brothers and sisters fleeing crippling poverty and life-threatening violence in their countries of origin? How would we treat those reaching the borders of the United States of America if we paused to recognize Christ in each and every one of them?
Overall, I predict I will be more encouraged than discouraged by the executive actions President Obama takes to change the existing immigration policies, piecemeal and temporary though they may be. But until our elected officials in both the Executive and Legislative Branches write, pass, and implement comprehensive immigration reform legislation that reflects the fundamental human dignity of all immigrants in and arriving to our country, I suspect that I will continue to carry this sense of disappointment.
Cover Image: U.S./Mexico Border by Flickr User Scazon; Flickr Creative Commons, available here.