The President is set to use his executive powers to reform the US immigration system. This will, almost inevitably, lead to impeachment proceedings being launched by Republicans who say that the President is using his powers unconstitutionally.
The President promised to make immigration reform a top priority during his second term as president but he has been thwarted at every turn by Republican members of the House of Representatives (the lower house of Congress, known colloquially as 'the House').
Under the US system, Congress (the legislature) makes the laws while the President (the executive) is responsible for implementing the laws. In June 2013, the upper house of Congress, the Senate, passed a comprehensive immigration reform act, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act.
If it became law, it would
- Create a 'pathway to citizenship' for illegal immigrants. They would have to pay a $500 fine, learn English and pay back taxes
- Increase the annual number of H-1B temporary skilled work visas' from 85,000 to over 150,000. This figure could rise above 200,000 if demand was high
- Allow graduates from US universities with higher degrees to apply for green cards
- Increase spending on border security by $4.5bn over the next four years
However, under the US system, all bills must be passed by both houses of Congress to become law.
Since June last year, the speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, a Republican, has refused even to allow the House to vote on the bill.
There are 435 seats in the House and, at present, there is a small Republican majority (234 Republicans, 199 Democrats 2 seats vacant). Pro-reform campaigners believe that enough Republicans would vote for reform, were there to be a vote.
Mr Boehner has claimed repeatedly that he wants to see reform but says that he does not trust President Obama to implement any new law correctly.
Democrats have urged Boehner to pass a reform bill that would not come into force until President Obama has left office in 2017. Mr Boehner has failed to act.
This stalemate is known as 'gridlock' and it has not been limited to immigration. Republican members of the House have blocked nearly every piece of legislation that Democrats have introduced since 2009.
This is because the Republicans have recently moved to the right under the influence of the radical Tea Party movement; a grassroots movement which favours small government and low taxes.
The Tea Party campaigns to replace incumbent Republican politicians who they see as being too willing to reach an accommodation with the Democrats on immigration reform and other legislation.
As a result, some moderate Republicans have lost their seats and others have moved to the right to keep their seats.
Because of this gridlock, the President has used his presidential powers to try to reform the system. George Washington issued the first 'executive order' and all Presidents have used them since. They are specifically allowed to do so under the Constitution.
This has not prevented some Republicans from warning the President that to use the powers would be 'unconstitutional'.
The President has already used his powers to reform the immigration system once. In 2011, he introduced the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) which allowed some young people who were in the country illegally to stay, providing that they
- Had no criminal convictions
- Had come to the country as minors
- Had been in the country for at least five years
Earlier in the summer, the President asked his Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and the Attorney General to look into possible reforms that could be introduced by executive order.
Now, some pro-immigration reform campaigners expect the President to expand the DACA program to all illegal immigrants who have no criminal convictions; about 9m people. The President has told these people to 'right-size' (reduce) their hopes indicating that he is planning action on a smaller scale.
Other changes which commentators have suggested that the President might introduce include
- Allowing the parents and legal guardians of US citizens who are in the country illegally to stay. This would be around 3.8m people
- Allowing the parents and legal guardians of DACA permit holders to stay (this is estimated to apply to between 0.5 and 1 million people)
- Removing the requirement that illegal immigrants who would otherwise qualify for green cards as relatives of US citizens leave the country for ten years before applying for their green cards.
- The President's staff are said to have been consulting business over ways in which the law could be changed to assist the economy.
This is likely to lead to some Republicans commencing impeachment proceedings against the President.
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, for instance, said on Monday 28th July 'It (the President's use of executive power) would be an affront to the people of this country which they will never forgive. It would be a permanent stain on your presidency'.
But the President is said to have considered the possibility of impeachment proceedings and is still determined to press ahead with more limited immigration reform.
'House Republicans have refused to allow a vote'
The President said earlier in July 'For more than a year, Republicans in the House of Representatives have refused to allow an up-or-down vote on that Senate bill or any legislation to fix our broken immigration system. And I held off on pressuring them for a long time to give Speaker Boehner the space he needed to get his fellow Republicans on board….
'…While I will continue to push House Republicans to drop the excuses and act…and I hope their constituents will too…America cannot wait forever for them to act. And that's why, today, I'm beginning a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress'.
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