Politics

Obama’s immigration exemptions poison needed reforms, say critics

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

Advocates of a compromise reform of immigration law say their efforts are being hampered by President Barack Obama’s policy of ignoring unwanted portions of previous immigration-law compromises.

“It would be ridiculous for Republicans to actually believe that the Obama administration is going to uphold its end of any compromise,” said Rosemary Jenks, the director of government relations at NumbersUSA, which wants a reform that would invite fewer, but higher skilled, immigrants

“If Obama does not believe the existing laws apply to him, why would he believe a new compromise applies to him?” she said.

Obama has announced he will introduce a draft immigration reform bill early this year.

But his deputies also said Jan. 3 they would routinely award hardship exemptions from a penalty mandated in the 1996 immigration law. The exemptions for be provided to many illegal immigrants who have married to a U.S. citizen.

The Jan. 3 announcement follows Obama’s declaration in June 2012 that he would spend taxpayer money to grant work permits to younger illegal immigrants, said Steven Camarota, the research director at the Center for Immigration Studies.

It shows that Obama doesn’t need to get Congress’ approval for the amnesty he wants, Camarota said. “By doing all this [via regulations], he is in creating an amnesty by fiat,” unless Congress counters his unilateral moves, he said.

The announcement received much favorable coverage in established media outlets, such as The Washington Post, and came as the nation’s high unemployment rate rose in December.

Roughly 10 million illegal immigrants live in the United States. Many are related to U.S. citizens or legal residents. Roughly 23 million Americans are unemployed, underemployed or have dropped out of the workforce since 2009.

The 1996 provision said illegal immigrants who wanted to claim residency — for example, after marrying a citizen — must return to their home country for three or ten years before getting residency. The provision was intended to hinder marriages to illegal immigrants while protecting routine immigration of citizens’ foreign spouses.

Under the 1996 law, illegal immigrants who had stayed in the United States for up to one year would be delayed three years before they could return. Illegals who had stayed in the U.S. for more than one year would be delayed 10 years.

By promising waivers for illegal immigrant spouses, parents and minor children of new citizens, Obama is reducing the barriers to illegal immigrants gaining residency and work-permits, said Camarota.

Illegal immigrants can apply for the new waiver without a risk of being deported, even if they have a criminal record, he said. If they get the waiver, they’ll apply for residency via the U.S. embassy in their home country. If they don’t get the waiver, he said, they’ll simply stay in the United States.

“It is it ‘Heads I win, tails you lose,’” he said.

The decision makes fools of millions of law-abiding foreigners awaiting permission to immigrate, he added.

Instead of jury-rigging an expensive escape hatch for illegals, the president should have followed the constitution and asked Congress to change the law, said Camarota.

“If you want to get rid of the 3-year/10-year bar, you’ve got to go Congress, make your case, have it passed and signed into law,” he said.

“Congress specifically passed the 3-year/10-year bar in 1996 to discourage illegal immigration … [but] we have the president simply saying I don’t like this law, so I won’t enforce it,” he said.

“There’s no difference between this [immigration exemption] and the next presidents saying … ‘I’m not going to enforce the corporate income-tax and I’ll give any corporation that doesn’t pay its income tax a waiver,’” he added.

Other immigration reform groups praised the administration’s exemption policy and urged its expansion.

“For too long, thousands of immigrants with U.S. citizen family members haven’t applied for permanent residency out of fear of being separated from their families,” said a statement form America’s Voice, which supports immigration change that helps new immigrants bring in their extended families, without regard for education, productivity, age or health.

“This new rule puts families first and allows immigrants to apply for permanent residency without having to spend months or years away from their loved ones,” the group said.

American’s Voice also said the new exemption does not go far enough.

“The family members of legal permanent residents are not yet eligible for these waivers, nor are bi-national same sex couples,” it said.

Jenks slammed other immigration groups that supported the exemption.

“There’s no question that the advocacy groups want as much immigration as possible, however it is accomplished, legally or illegally, by bending, breaking or ignoring the rules,” Jenks said.

Obama’s refusal to enforce the 1996 law will spur the arrival of new immigrants, just as the formal unemployment rate nudged up again to 7.8 percent, the same rate as in January 2009.

In December, the formal unemployment rate is 23.5 percent among teenagers, 11.5 percent among people aged below 30, 22.1 percent for younger African Americans, and 12.2 percent for younger Hispanics. Millions of additional Americans have given up looking for work, gone back to school, retired or claimed disability.

Immigration is also politically significant.

Obama’s 2012 support for Latino illegal immigrants helped him win emotional support among Latino communities, despite his unpopular economic policies.

Up to 1.76 million illegal immigrants, including 800,000 who are now younger than 18, are eligible for the work-permits that Obama made available in June, according to the Migration Policy Institute. However, only 20 percent of the eligible adults have some college experience, despite the increasing unemployment rate among low-skilled workers in a high-skill economy.

Correspondingly, many working-class and middle-class whites voters who worry about employment also dislike amnesties for illegals. But relatively few turned out to support GOP candidate Gov. Mitt Romney in Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia, Florida and other critical states.

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