The President’s Last Push
As immigration reform is effectively postponed until next year, I wanted to take time and examine the actions of the President so far and possible options for pushing immigration reform through Congress. President Obama promised to place immigration reform on his political agenda during his presidential re-election campaign and promised a few weeks back to get immigration reform passed before the end of the year. But how much control does the President have over the creation of reform?
Currently, the President has been focusing on smaller changes to immigration policy. Last Friday, President Obama issued a nine page memorandum to allow some of the country’s illegal citizens with relatives in the U.S. military to stay in the United States. The order also allows those illegal family members to apply for citizenship in the U.S. This change is said to positively affect thousands of military families who worry about the legal status of their families. In late August, issued a similar presidential memorandum to prevent the deportation of illegal citizens who were the parents of minor children. Presidential memoranda and executive orders are powerful presidential tools for Obama because he change the way government rules are followed and does not have to appeal for legislative approval. This is one method President Obama can use to reshape our current policies on immigration before the end of the year.
However, executive orders and memoranda only allow the president to make changes to how current law is implemented and followed. Unfortunately, these means do not allow the president to create new immigration reform. This is a huge limitation for President Obama as he continues to persuade a gridlocked Congress to create immigration reform. As we stated in class, the president’s power of persuasion can lead to bargaining between the branches of government and the creation of bipartisan policy. However, the willingness of the House to bargain with the Senate and the President has dramatically decreased since the government shutdown crisis. House Speaker John Boehner has recently stated that the House would not go to a formal conference over a comprehensive reform bill endorsed by the President and the Senate. Many Republicans legislators have found it more political appealing to focus on the failure to successfully implement healthcare reform than to vote on a comprehensive reform approach. Some other legislators like Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, have stated that the President’s use of memoranda to make changes in immigration policy have “poisoned the debate”. In this political environment, it is clear that political conditions will not allow President Obama to have an advantage over Congress. Therefore, he will have little ability to affect policymaking in Congress.
So where does President Obama go from here? As we learned from Richard Neustadt’s book Presidential Power (1960), the president’s influence over policymaking is “weak”. I believe there is little the President can do to bridge the congressional divide between the House and the Senate. The best avenue for any new immigration reform this year might be through memoranda and executive orders.