Is Executive Amnesty A Briar Patch?

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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Amne-geddon? Just between us, I’ve always had a  briar-patchy attitude ** toward the prospect of a major Obama unilateral illegal-immigrant amnesty. My thinking was this:

1) The core problem with “comprehensive immigration reform” legislation is that it would lock the U.S. into a permanent cycle of amnesty after amnesty. The law’s legalization provisions would take effect almost immediately — and once they did immigrant and business groups would mobilize to block the enforcement provisions (as happened after the previous amnesty, in 1986). It would then be obvious to every potential illegal immigrant on the planet that, if you come to the U.S. and make it across the border, there is an amnesty down the road for you. After all, Latino voters will need to be pandered to in 2020 and 2024 and 2028, and there will be more of them then.  And thanks to the built-in double-cross on enforcement, millions could come here illegally and take advantage of this de facto offer. If immigrant activists (and the Chamber of Commerce) can scuttle enforcement provisions in 2014,  they’ll be even more able to do so in the future.

2) In contrast,  a unilateral Obama amnesty has some less-bad aspects.  Not that it wouldn’t be permanent — once granted, even “temporary”  protections will never be taken away from whatever immigrants Obama gives them to. But if Obama de-facto amnestied 5 million that would still leave 6 million un-amnestied– and since unilateral action would poison Republicans against more sweeping legislation (while taking care of the most appealing cases) they would be likely to stay un-amnestied for a good while. That would muddy the signal sent to the outside world: the Gran Amnesty that had been talked about wouldn’t be happening anytime soon.  This might be it for amnesties! Nor would Obama’s action kill the possibility that some future President and Congress would do the things (building a fence, mandating E-verify,  establishing a visa tracking system) that could give us control of our borders, allowing a democratic debate over how many or few immigrants to let in.***

I now believe this line of argument is flawed, and Obama’s unilateral amnesty is more dangerous, in itself, than I’d thought. Why? The reaction to Obama’s 2012 “deferred action” amnesty of so-called young DREAMers showed that even a relatively small amnesty (1 to 2 million people) can produce a big influx of the undocumented. These newcomers might believe, with some justification, that now they don’t have to wait for a compliant Congress to legalize them — only for  a pro-amnesty president with an expansive idea of his power and need to placate Univision. Plus we now know there is a whole industry — the coyote industry — with a vested interest in telling would-be immigrants they’ll be able to stay, even if that involves exaggerating both the actual provisions of the law and the realistic prospects of amnesty.

Suppose, for example, Obama decides to give “deferred action” to the parents of DREAMers. Look,  the coyotes may say — not only is the U.S. legalizing those who come as minors through “no fault of their own.” It’s also legalizing the parents whose fault it was!  Do you think a country that does that is going to kick you or your kids out if they manage to sneak in? You’ll all eventually get drivers licenses and work permits and Social Security Numbers and affirmative action eligibility and maybe health insurance, just like the people Obama has “deferred.”

I still think a truly realistic assessment of the prospects for a future amnesties would distinguish between “comprehensive” legislation and executive action:  After a “comprehensive” bill future amnesties are all but certain. After executive action they’re not — the implementation of effective enforcement measures, even a revived deportation threat, remains a live possibility. If Obama’s 2014 actions kill the former, legislative option, even at the expense of realizing an executive amnesty, it’s still a bit of a briar patch– one reason I continue to suspect Obama won’t “go big.”  But it’s less of a briar patch than I’d thought.

Tell me if I have this wrong …


** — See strategically buried footnote here.

*** –Big business lobbyists would likely be disappointed, if not completely frustrated, by any deal. They want legislation doubling legal immigration, adding a million or so more new legal immigrants a year, not the few (not insubstantial) bones a “Caesarist” Obama might throw them by reinterpreting existing rules. If corporate coyotes business lobbyists are moved to reassess how much their alliance with La Raza has gotten them, and decide to go it alone in pursuit of more visas, that could further dim any chance at a future, larger, legislative amnesty for current illegals.

Mickey Kaus