What did Obama actually announce?
- More border security, details to be determined.
- Easier immigration for high-skilled immigrants, details to be determined.
- A promise not to deport (for three years) illegal immigrants who meet these requirements: have been here for five years, are not criminals, pay taxes, and pay a fee.
The reaction of most of the talking heads has been predictably filled with breathless partisan doom-and-gloom rhetoric, making it challenging to actually find any facts in the mess. The only semi-sober analysis I saw was this one from Reason.
The way that Obama did this is of a piece with the growth of unilateral presidential power ever since 9/11. I think this may be the single biggest success of the terrorists on that day. It strikes at the very heart of what makes this country America, and I fear greatly its long term consequences. Obama's assertion of presidential power here, if not rebuked in some effective way, is one more step along the path blazed by George W. Bush. So far, it's been a one-way path, with continuous movement of the boundary outward from the presidency at the expense of Congress. This is the most worrisome thing I see about Obama's action, at least so far.
Politically this is a long-expected move by the Democrats, even if the form isn't quite was most people thought it would be. This is a step toward (but not there yet!) a flood of new Democratic voters and the Democratic goal of a permanent majority. At least, that's what Democratic strategists seem to believe. I'm not so sure they'd actually get the results they wanted, though, even if they succeeded on the face of it.
What Obama just did seems rather mild compared to the rhetoric on the right, though. They seem to see this as an irreversible step down a slippery slope to doom. I see this more as a stupidly implemented, easily reversible step that should be a part of a much broader reform of our immigration policies. I'm all for an actual amnesty (which this is not), one that applied to anyone who wasn't a felon, was actually working towards assimilation with American culture, and wasn't agitating for the overthrow of the U.S. government. I'd also like to see our current immigration restrictions completely removed, as they were before the 1860s, back when that motto on the Statue of Liberty actually meant something:
Give me your tired, your poor,Emma Lazarus wrote that, and for about the first half of this country's history it was the literal truth. Today's immigration controls have turned that motto from truth into a cruel, viscous joke – but nobody's laughing except the lawyers who take hopeful immigrant's hard-earned money knowing that there's little chance of success for them.
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
However, even someone as pro-open-immigration as I will not support actions like Obama's taken in isolation. Those actions only make sense to me if they are part of a much broader set of reforms that include not only open immigration, but active deportation of felons and agitators, requirements for assimilation (including English and meaningful citizenship achievement), and more. I don't see anything but bad consequences to piecemeal implementation over the course of years; this is something that really needs to be dropped into place quickly. I've never thought this was politically feasible (and it certainly isn't now), so my default position is to oppose any significant change until real reform does become politically feasible.
There is one good thing I can think of that will come from Obama's amnesty: Congressional gridlock. I think Obama just dropped a nuclear weapon on any possibility of cooperative Republicans. It will be outright political war for the rest of his term in office. Nothing will get done. Yay!