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Editorial: How executive action will not help immigrants

As the White House prepares to unveil President Obama’s executive action on immigration this week, and as Republicans reaffirm their intention to reduce the reach of such action by all means available, it is important to consider the impact that this executive action will have for immigrants and for the wider future of immigration reform in our country.

Executive action in this vein is not unprecedented. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan exercised his discretionary authority to protect from deportation spouses and children who did not qualify for amnesty under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, also known as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act. In 1990, after the House failed to pass legislation that would prohibit the deportation of spouses and children of those protected by IRCA, President George H.W. Bush also made use of the latitude in prosecutorial discretion, instituting his “family fairness” policy, which similarly granted those undocumented people protection from deportation and allowed them to seek lawful employment. In both of these cases, it is important to remember that significant effort had already been undertaken to address the issue of immigration through legislative reform.

In 2012, Obama introduced his order for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which has benefited hundreds of thousands of undocumented children already in the country. Nonetheless, DACA has coincided with an increase in illegal immigration, further expanding the divide between Democrats and Republicans as some of the latter suggest that the imminent possibility of a path to citizenship is attracting more illegal immigration.

The number of undocumented immigrants in the United States is estimated at upwards of 11 million, with the vast majority arriving over the border from Latin America. This is an issue that cannot be ignored and requires a bipartisan consensus focused on eradicating the marginalization of immigrants in our society while devoting resources toward revamping border protection and fraud prevention.

Obama’s awaited executive order is set to offer deferred action from deportation as well as work authorizations to the undocumented parents of citizen and permanent legal resident children and, likewise, to the parents of children now protected by DACA. The number of undocumented people who would benefit under this action could be as many as five million. Though the president’s decision would certainly remove some of the anxieties and fears that many immigrant families confront when obtaining work authorization, social security cards and driver’s licenses, they would have to come forward to receive help. No change in legislation means no security, in face of the possibility of a reversal of Obama’s decision in the future.

Executive action does not promote the integration of the immigrant population into society. The focus of the administration should be placed on facilitating legislative reform that recognizes the need to eliminate marginalization and fear among immigrants. This goal can only be achieved through legislation that fosters education, fair employment practices and the restructuring of policies and resources toward border protection and fraud prevention. The much-anticipated executive order, as well as DACA, will simply fall short. Both fail to promote a culture more accepting toward immigrants and further the divide regarding immigration between both political parties. Executive action may be enticing, but it is a short-term solution that could break down the potential for legislative action.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Alexander Kaplan ’15 and James Rattner ’15, and its members, Zoila Bergeron ’17, Natasha Bluth ’15, Manuel Contreras ’16, Baxter DiFabrizio ’15, Manuel Monti-Nussbaum ’15, Katherine Pollock ’16 and Himani Sood ’15. Send comments to


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