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November 24, 2014

President Obama Announces Immigration Executive Order; Action Could Have Implications For Government Spending Bill, Trade

Last Thursday President Barack Obama detailed an executive order that will give approximately five million individuals living in the U.S. illegally temporary legal status. (There are an estimated 11 million undocumented indviduals living in the U.S.) Specifically the order will:

  • Defer deportation for and give a three-year work permit to the undocumented parents of children who were born in the United States or who hold green cards;
  • Defer deportation for children brought to the U.S. illegally before Jan. 1, 2010;
  • Defer deportation for certain high-skill workers;
  • Increase efforts to secure the southern border;
  • Focus on deporting undocumented individuals who have committed felonies;
  • Make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to come to the U.S.; and
  • Allow workers in the U.S. on high-tech visas to switch jobs while in the country.

As Politico notes, the president’s order “does not include a path to citizenship or access to health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.” Individuals given temporary legal status will be able to travel back and forth from their home countries, however, but must pay certain fines and fees in order to gain legal status. 

Republicans strongly oppose the president’s actions. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pledged to oppose the plan and though two key House committees will review the policy in early December, it’s still unclear what path Republicans in Congress will take to constrain the president’s actions. The most likely avenue is to withhold funding for the agencies tasked with carrying out the president’s new policy. That path would open the door for a more heated battle over the fiscal year 2015 government funding bill, which Congress was hoping to easily pass during its lame duck session this December. While leaders in both parties have maintained publicly that they will work to avoid a government shutdown, a battle over funding for agencies tasked with immigration enforcement does raise the likelihood of a shutdown. 

Additionally, Politico reported the president’s action could affect the White House’s own trade agenda. The Capitol Hill newspaper quoted a top Democratic aide on Capitol Hill who said efforts to pass Trade Promotion Authority, a policy that speeds up Congress’s consideration of pending trade deals, are dead because of the president’s immigration policy. The official said, “[W]ith the immigration play, there is no way Congress is going to voluntarily give up the authority it has over trade deals to the president.” 

Opponents of the president’s action are also likely to oppose it via the courts. Indeed, The Christian Science Monitor reports the governors of Indiana, Texas and Wisconsin are all considering legal action against the executive order. (Roll Call says the action will be “difficult to challenge in court” and that litigation on the matter would not likely conclude until President Obama left office.) 

In his remarks last Thursday, President Obama challenged members of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and promised to withdraw his executive order if they do. The Metals Service Center Institute continues to support comprehensive immigration reform and believe it is necessary despite the president’s actions. Congress and the White House must continue to work together to pass commonsense immigration reforms that ensure access to both low- and high-skilled workers.