Obama's Amnesty Strategy

The day after the Republican Party won enough Senate seats to give them a majority in the U.S. Senate, President Obama reaffirmed his position that only those bills passed by Congress that are acceptable to him will be signed into law. He did not say that he will have his aides liaise with Congressional leaders to come up with a compromise which, once placed upon his desk, he would sign. He made no hint that he will communicate closely with Congress to craft bills. 

Obama also stated that if Congress doesn’t resolve the immigration issue he will take executive action and resolve it himself, implying that he will issue a constitutionally improper executive order. 

There is no precedent for such an action. The concept of amnesty has up to now been narrowly defined. There is some provision in current immigration law to bypass the normal rules of naturalization and hasten the process for those aliens who would suffer persecution or death if they remained in their native countries. It has long been recognized that the U.S. can serve as a sanctuary for those under politically-motivated persecution. But his has always been done on an individual basis, and the individual must petition, or at least apply, to Federal agencies in order to make this happen. The State department is usually consulted to see if the alien’s native country is in fact guilty of politically-motivated persecution. 

But a blanket amnesty for millions, or even thousands, has yet to be attempted. President Carter did allow for about 100,000 Cuban refugees to flee political persecution in Cuba, but these were not cleared on an individual basis and it is now commonly accepted that Fidel Castro used that amnesty declaration to send undesirables such as criminals to the U.S. It saved him incarceration expenses. And the number given amnesty by Carter was much smaller than would be covered by Obama’s EO. 

Pardon is another power the president could use. He could pardon millions of illegal immigrants, but that implies he is pardoning them for something. That something usually refers to a crime for which they have been found guilty. Convicted persons petition the White House all the time for pardons. Usually specific reasons are given, such as that the conviction was based on an illegally obtained confession, or racial discrimination can be shown to be the basis of the conviction.

The Constitution clearly states that only Congress has the authority to establish “an uniform rule of naturalization.” The executive has no authority to do anything but consult with Congress as they write the “uniform rule.” But with President Obama another factor may be at play. This factor arises from the observation that the president and his political party had two entire years in which to pass any sort of illegal immigration law they pleased. They did not need the cooperation of the Republicans in Congress. 

Why they did not may provide a clue indicating President Obama’s behavior now. Since he chose not to do anything during those two years through Congress, it is disingenuous of him to suggest that he now expects Congress to write a bill and place it on his desk. 

The real explanation may be related to the tendency of his party to avoid solving issues important to their base. One may ask: if the president really thought that his party would permanently capture the Hispanic vote with an amnesty type Congressional bill in his first two years, why didn’t they pass such a law? Now the opportunity to write the bill has passed.

If one believes that the president holds onto the immigration card, and doesn’t use it by declaring blanket amnesty, the reason must be that he seeks political gain from not using it now. He can hold the Hispanic vote in suspense, and promise to make changes to immigration law, while at the same time stretching out the support of the Hispanics by extending the promise into the future. He may have made the electoral calculation that the negative impact of an amnesty executive order may hurt his party more than an amnesty EO will help it. 

More likely, he feels that using the immigration amnesty card will remove the amnesty issue from the Democrat Party’s platform for the future. Hispanics, Obama may believe, will no longer vote for Democrats if they get what they want -- full amnesty. Future elections will then depend on other issues of interest to Hispanics, such as jobs, the economy, education, and so on. These issues may prove difficult for Democrats to deal with since Democrats control all the Congressional districts that are majority Hispanic. 

There is an old cartoon depicting how a carrot, tied to a stick, extends out in front of a mule just far enough so the mule is motivated to keep walking to get the carrot. The stick, however, is also long enough to prevent the mule from ever reaching the carrot. The mule’s desire for the carrot keeps motivating it to fall for the ruse. 

Similarly, Hispanic voters may be convinced that Republicans will never give them blanket amnesty, only the Democrats will. But having fallen for this ruse they then place themselves in a position to be exploited. President Obama has failed, for six years, to either pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill for the two years he had the chance, or issue an Executive Order giving amnesty to all illegal immigrants. That he has done this for so long, may provide enough evidence for the idea that he is not about to issue an EO and give illegal immigrants amnesty, that the ruse is too useful to his party, and they are loathe to give up what they see as a strategic advantage. Since this has gone on for six years already and the 2016 presidential election is just two years away, one is led to conclude that the president will continue to keep the carrot on the stick. 

Handing immigration reform to Hispanics means giving up the support of Hispanic voters, who have patiently waited six years, and will likely wait six years more. This enables Democrats to keep bringing up the idea, keep criticizing Republicans for not being sensitive to Hispanics voters’ concerns, and keep Hispanic voter support.