Two weeks after the midterm election of 2014, President Obama announced a series of executive actions on immigration policy in a fifteen-minute televised speech from the White House. The centerpiece was announcing “deferred action” for up to five million undocumented immigrant adults, including work permits and drivers’ licenses for those who register.
These actions did not resemble the comprehensive legislation passed by the Senate in 2013 and have never been offered as incremental legislation. Still, many advocates of immigration reform are elated because those actions seem to resolve the long-standing impasse in Congress; yet changing US law without legislative authority is controversial. Indeed, there is some concern that this executive action has made legislative progress even more difficult.
The justification for taking action now is that “America can’t wait,” yet it was made to wait until after the November elections by the White House, which saw a historic sweep of Republicans in federal and state roles. The timing was also notable because it comes six years after the president was first elected and with only two years remaining in his presidency. He might have announced the actions before the elections, when the Democratic Party was in the majority in the Senate, or he might have announced them six years ago, when his party controlled the House of Representatives as well.
The Hoover Institution conducted a rapid survey of immigration scholars to gauge their reaction to the November 20 announcement and also published a series of reactions by Hoover fellows. These were published online in December but have been collected here in PDF format, supplemented by a few additional essays written with more time to reflect on the consequences.
This issue includes essays by Eddie Lazear (cochair of the Conte Initiate on Immigration Reform), Victor Davis Hanson, Michael McConnell, Richard Epstein, William Suter, and Tom Church.
Immigration remains strong in America, with millions of legal migrants welcomed to the United States every year. Yet the controversy over illegal immigration continues to rage. This most recent executive action will undoubtedly add more intensity for one simple reason: President Obama announced that his deferred action on deporting older undocumented immigrants will require them to register for temporary status lasting three years. The next US resident will have to figure out a way to find a permanent fix.
Tim Kane, Editor