Obama has been on the defensive on the issue of deportations lately, being called the "Deporter-in-Chief" by Janet Murguía. The criticism from the immigrant rights community has been quiet for a long time as they tried to press Congress, which seems completely unable to address the issue in the House. Now, pressure on the President is coming to bear as a legislative solution seems increasingly unlikely, and relief is around five years and almost 2 million deportations late.
Detentions and deportations have climbed upward largely as a part of the "get tough" political environment that also saw an increase in law enforcement across the board. These high numbers are also a result of the successful lobbying efforts of groups like the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the GEO Group and American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). These entities have all been heavily invested in a multibillion-dollar immigrant detention industry that has committed human rights abuses and is known to pay millions to lobbyists as well as political campaigns on both sides of the aisle. Despite their success, however, Obama can still unilaterally reduce deportations greatly.
To be sure, what Obama said in reaction to the "Deporter-in-Chief" comment was true; he is "constrained in terms of what [he can] do." There are many inherent limitations on a President's power, and what one President does, another may very well undo the next term.
That being said, however, I wrote a memo on how Obama could expand relief through Deferred Action or other avenues short of an Executive Order. The short version is that he is the boss of the organizations that detain and deport immigrants. As the head of the agencies such as ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which are responsible for detentions and deportations, he could change their policy to put much less emphasis and resources into domestic immigration enforcement.
Obama could also try to stick closer to legal pledges of not detaining and deporting people for minor offenses to conserve resources and prioritize public safety, such as the Morton Memo. The consequences of not doing so are well-documented. In a piece entitled "False Promises: The Failure of Secure Communities in Miami-Dade County," AI Justice and Florida International University's Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy exposed abuses within Secure Communities as it related to Miami-Dade.
They found the vast majority of people targeted were not serious criminals as ICE contends, and either had committed no crime or a minor offense like a traffic violation. Only 18 percent of those ordered for removal represent high priority public safety risks even by ICE standards, and that drops to 6 percent when local standards from the Miami-Dade County's Public Defender are used. Many of those arrested were the heads of their family, adversely affecting their often-citizen, minor children, and the arrests for little or no cause lead immigrants to be fearful and uncooperative with police, endangering both immigrant and citizen communities. To have these unfortunate outcomes, S-Comm cost Miami-Dade County around $12.5 million.
Unilateral reform could be a rare win-win-win for Obama -- he gets to do everything he can to fulfill that first year immigration promise which he has performed on in an outright ironic fashion; Americans, who are in favor of immigration reform, will no longer have to foot the bill for a detention and deportation policy more expensive than the FBI, ATF and DEA's entire law enforcement budgets combined; and Obama will score an important victory that will bring Latinos out to the polls in favor of Democrats after Obamacare has been dragging Democrats down in many local and state elections.
Like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), most Republicans would not be able to fight it publicly out of fear of further alienating the Latino vote in 2014, and setting up a hostile narrative going into the 2016 elections -- if you are for immigration reform you can't win the GOP primaries, but if you are against it you damage your long-term career and almost certainly lose the general election when both the Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander vote goes against you.
Also, the GOP will have to struggle to silence bombastic comments from people like Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Steve King (R-Ind.), who are in safe districts and will probably take the opportunity to say something offensive about Latinos that Speaker Boehner and the Chamber of Commerce wing of the GOP will immediately condemn.
Put plainly, Obama has been deporting immigrants faster than any other President before him, so we know for a fact that our country would operate just fine with fewer deportations. He seems to have been doing this to appeal to a GOP whose Speaker of the House can still be humiliated and forced back to the podium like a freshly-spanked child to explain how he will not follow through on the principles of immigration he just a elaborated week ago -- nothing will appease the outside groups that control the Republican Party on immigration, because all they want is more bodies in detention centers. On Wednesday, the GOP put forward a bill called the "ENFORCE The Law Act," which would undermine Obama's authority to put programs like DACA into effect, showing where they are politically.
We are already in midterm season, and will be drifting directly into the grandstanding portion of the 2016 primary season after. This will prompt candidates to clamor for cameras to reach the base and undercut serious debate as Herman Cain pushes electrified border fences, Donald Trump asks for birth certificates, and Michele Bachmann continues to preach against gay. The last hope we really have for immigration reform falls squarely on Obama -- as will the criticism of him and his legacy if he fails.