Supreme Court Stops Obama’s Immigration Plan

affirmative-actionStevie was my neighbor from the time I was born. We played together just about every day, and we went to Kindergarten together at the public school up the hill from our houses. We played with G.I. Joe mostly, and I never saw the irony in that. It never registered with me that his name was actually Esteban. Even when his parents were speaking Spanish they called him Stevie.

One day, Stevie’s house was empty. He never said goodbye. In my six-year-old mind I was angry with him for that. I told my mother he wasn’t really my friend. It was years later when I realized what had actually happened. I have no idea what became of Stevie, but I like to think that he was able to stay with his family. After all, he is an American, just like me. We were born at the same hospital, just a few weeks apart. My mother was also born at that hospital. But Stevie’s mother was not. And that is why his family left without saying good-bye.

The Stevie’s of today had a very bad week, thanks to the US Supreme Court. President Obama instituted a program in 2014 that would have allowed families like Stevie’s to stay in the US and work legally. It was called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). It would have allowed over 4 million parents and siblings to stay in the country. But the Supreme Court has only eight members, and a 4-4 tie upheld the lower court injunction that prevented this program from becoming law. This was a severe blow for undocumented immigrants, many of whom want nothing more than to come out of the shadows.

There are roughly 11 million people in the US at any given time who do not have legal status. A majority of the new arrivals have come from Asia, but the largest group is from Mexico and Central America. They are already here, and many of them have been here for years, in some cases decades. Their children are here in the US, their grandchildren may even be here. Yet they live in constant fear that a broken taillight or a late electric bill could destroy all that they have built.

I believe that our borders should be much more open than they are now. I also believe that the Supreme Court’s decision was wrong. I am no lawyer, but I am able to read, and the law is quite clear. Congress provides funding for government agencies, and the executive branch executes the laws. That is the balance of powers. Congress provides the Department of Homeland Security with enough funding to deport roughly 400,000 people each year. Congress also provides the Secretary of Homeland Security with the authority to “establish national immigration enforcement policies and priorities.” And that is exactly what the Secretary did, at President Obama’s behest. If congress funds 400,000 removals (the official term) per year, then it has given the executive branch a decision to make. Which 400,000 should be sent back to their country of origin?

But is that even relevant? Legal theory is all well and good, but there are 11 million people living their lives in constant fear. They make up a substantial portion of our workforce, and there would be significant economic penalties if we tried to deport all of them, as Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump has threatened to do. For evidence of this we need look no further than our agriculture industry. A huge amount of agricultural workers are undocumented immigrants. And that is a large reason why people in America can buy food so cheaply (Some living in Hawaii may dispute this, but that is a separate issue).

Economic studies have shown that increased deportations would have a drastic effect on the prices of dietary staples such as tomatoes, oranges, strawberries, and a variety of other fruits and vegetables grown in the US. Economies in states such as California and Florida would be devastated. But they would not be alone. Undocumented immigrants make up somewhere between 5% and 6% of the total workforce in the US. Deporting all of those workers would cost private industry between $400 and $600 billion in lost output.

To be clear, I not only support a temporary reprieve for the 4 million people affected by the recent Supreme Court decision, I believe that most of the 11 million undocumented people currently in the US should be granted legal status and a path to citizenship. An opponent of this amnesty might say that these jobs are being taken from American citizens, and that the immigrants are actually hurting the economy in that way. There are a couple of problems with that argument, which I will detail:

First, the unemployment rate is right around 5% right now. Therefore, even if every unemployed citizen of the United States of American were an exact match with a specific undocumented immigrant in geographical location, skill set, and willingness to do the job, we would still not have enough to make up for the loss. However, unemployed citizens are not an exact match, far from it in fact. On top of that, most of the jobs done by these immigrants are easily available to the general public. Nobody wants them. They are difficult, low-paying jobs that often involve heavy manual labor.

Second, deportation is expensive. Studies estimate that the removal of 11 million people from the country would cost at least $500 billion. That is nearly 17% of the entire national budget! And it would not be a short term cost either, it would take years to hire the staff and build the infrastructure needed to execute the plan.

To summarize, Trump’s plan would lose us nearly a half a trillion dollars on the income side, and cost us nearly a half a trillion dollars on the expenses side. I think we can see why this guy ends up in Bankruptcy Court so often.

That is the economic argument, but there is also a compassion-based argument. As I stated earlier, these are families we are talking about. My friend Stevie was an American citizen born in the USA, and he had every right to be here. It was the only country he had ever known. Stevie’s parents, and millions like them, left their own country and took a huge amount of risk in doing so, to provide better opportunities and a better life for their children. Throughout history, many people have come to America for just that reason, even before it was known as America.

The response to this argument from the right was to encourage “self-deportation,” most notably championed by Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. This was based on the idea that state legislatures would pass strict anti-immigration laws, and that these laws would make life so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they would choose to go back to their home countries. One of the most notable examples of this occurred in Alabama. Alabama passed a series of laws in 2011 designed to show how well this theory worked. It allowed police to detain any person they “suspected” of being out of status for any reason. It forced schools to keep tallies of suspected undocumented children. It made harboring an immigrant a crime. It put in place punishments for employers who hire undocumented workers or landlords who rented apartments to them.

The Alabama law was not only a public relations nightmare (Executives from Mercedes Benz and Honda were arrested, among others), but an economic disaster. News story after news story showed photos and videos of millions of pounds of tomatoes rotting on the vine because Alabama farmers could not find any workers to pick them. As for the workers themselves, they were driven deeper underground, forced to live in constant fear. Who knows how many lives were lost because an immigrant family was too scared to take a sick child to the hospital.

Over the last few years a good deal of the Alabama law has been repealed in the state legislature or struck down in court. Most prosecutors have chosen not to enforce large aspects of what remains. All but the most strident anti-immigration activists have conceded that the law was an epic failure.

Whether the argument is based on family values, economic prosperity, or just plain common sense, it is clear to me that the US immigration system (if one can even call it a system) is in need of a drastic overhaul. The recent Supreme Court decision verifies that. I doubt that any good will come from this erroneous ruling, but maybe it will speed up the process and force those opposed to immigration reform to recognize that something has to be done. In the meantime, I hope that my friend Stevie has managed to stay in the country of his birth and have a good life. As for the millions just like him, we will have to wait until November’s election to find out what will happen to them.


One Comment to “Supreme Court Stops Obama’s Immigration Plan”

  1. I think this Immigration issue is sad. There are so many hard-working, peaceful, and kind-hearted immigrants here in America that are suffering because of our own ignorance and fear. One of Donald Trump’s most popular ideas about banning immigrations was the ban on Muslims. When I first heard about it, I thought it was messed up to suggest that just based on the fact of what has been happening in the world. Aside from what you mentioned in your article, I also believe that fear is one of our driving factors to deport immigrants, especially those of middle east descent.

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