With the currently stalled negotiations regarding comprehensive immigration reform in the House, most immigrant rights activists are calling for President Obama to halt all deportations of non-criminals. The number of people deported under the Obama administration has recently climbed to 2 million, that's more than any administration in American history. That's 1,100 deported persons per day, about the same amount of people deported between 1892 and 1997, with an estimated cost of about $5 billion per year, or $12,500 for every deported person. This includes the deportation of 205,000 parents of American citizens in the last 2 years.
The question is, does the President have the executive power to halt deportations?
A very brave activist, Ju Hong, interrupted a speech the President was giving on immigration last November, directly asking him,
Mr. Obama, I need your help. There are thousands of families being separated. Please use your executive order to halt the deportation to all 11.5 million immigrants. You have the power to stop the deportations for all undocumented immigrants.
President Obama responded, "Actually, I don't."
But in fact, to some extent, he already has. He passed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA in 2012, which I applied for and have received. Among other things, DACA temporarily halts deportations for what are considered "DREAMers," which are undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. at a young age.
President Obama did this through what is called prosecutorial discretion, which is the authority to decide charges and how to pursue a case. President Obama has the authority to enforce the law as is his executive power, which puts him in the possession of prosecutorial discretion. He can simply decide not to pursue action against the civil offense of unauthorized stay in the United States.
And as a former constitutional lawyer, I'm sure he is well aware that the Constitution gives the President the power to "grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States."
One way in which President Obama could stop deportations is by expanding the DACA program above the current age limit, so that not only will the DREAMers not be deported, but those DREAMers won't have to become orphans because ICE shows up at their house in the middle of the night and takes their parents away. This is a reality, it happens every day in every community around the United States. It happened on my street just a few years ago to a family who lived across the street from me one day and were literally in Nicaragua the next, leaving behind a daughter who happened not to be home at the time when ICE showed up.
So why is this happening? I mean, President Obama must have a good reason, right? What's the point of all these families being broken up? Of all these potential future Americans being shipped back to their former countries?
Politics. President Obama believes he is showing the Republicans that he is hard on enforcement by expanding the power of programs like ICE or controversial, and frankly unconstitutional procedures like "secure communities," which is essentially a "stop, frisk, and deport" program. He thinks this will warm the GOP up to passing a bipartisan comprehensive reform bill, but this isn't bringing the Republicans to the table.
In fact, Speaker Boehner, the Republican leader, recently said, "There's widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws."
So, President Obama, I ask, if deporting 2 million people and inhumanely detaining thousands more is not enough enforcement for the Republican leadership, what was the point? More importantly, why isn't it being stopped?
In your State of the Union Address this year you said, "wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do."
Maybe you're still not considering undocumented or mixed-status families as American.
Can we truly have a civil conversation on comprehensive immigration reform while simultaneously deporting millions of people that would be affected by such a bill?