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Experts weigh in on the validity of Obama’s immigration executive action

June 23, 2016 at 7:22 PM EDT
The Supreme Court’s deadlock on President Obama’s executive action preventing deportation of unauthorized immigrants represents the latest blow to the administration’s attempts at immigration reform. For more on the cases for and against the president’s initiative, Judy Woodruff talks to Angela Maria Kelley of the Center for American Progress and Jon Feere of the Center for Immigration studies.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And now we take a deeper look at that case, the impact of today’s immigration split, on life outside the court.

Angela Maria Kelley is with the Center for American Progress. For a time, she advised the Obama administration on immigration. And Jon Feere is a legal policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies.

Welcome to both of you.

ANGELA MARIA KELLEY, Center for American Progress: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Angela Kelley, let me start with you.

Your reaction to this one-sentence statement they handed down on this immigration?

ANGELA MARIA KELLEY: Yes. Yes, nine paltry words, but, boy, what a big blow.

Well, look, as Monica just said, this is not a…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Marcia.

ANGELA MARIA KELLEY: Marcia. Sorry.

It’s a disappointment, but it’s not a decision. And we’re not done. We have 11 million people in this country. The average number of years that they have been here is 12. So these are not folks that are just stopping by. They’re not accidental tourists. They are people who are living here.

And we can’t send them all home, as some presidential candidates might want have happen, because they are home. So, the question is, what are we going to do about it? I think the president’s plan is legal, and ultimately we will be back in front of the court. And I think that we will prevail. We do need a ninth justice. It’s been 100 days since Judge Garland was nominated, and he has not yet had his day in court. He hasn’t yet had his hearing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

But Jon Feere, it’s true the justices didn’t elaborate, but the effect of this is to send this back to the lower court.

JON FEERE, Center for Immigration Studies: Yes, and I think a lot of people are wondering why the court even took it up to begin with, because all this has done is delay an inevitable rehearing back at the Supreme Court a year or two from now.

So, it’s unclear how long this is going to take, but, in some ways, a lot of folks were arguing that perhaps the court should have waited until the lower court actually had a hearing on the merits, so we would have some idea of exactly what issues we were looking at and where perhaps the White House was going to be successful and where they were not.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But they were dealing with, what, 26 some — a large number of states that had asked them to rule on this.

JON FEERE: Twenty-six states, yes, but, as I recall, the states themselves requested to the Supreme Court that they not take the decision and, in fact, that they wait until there was a hearing at the lower court level.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What does this mean? You started to address this, Angela, in your first comment. What does this mean for the individuals who — President Obama talked today about people coming out of the shadows.

ANGELA MARIA KELLEY: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What does it mean for them?

ANGELA MARIA KELLEY: That’s right.

I mean, look, their lives remain in limbo. But their lives remain here. As I said, people have already been here for nearly a dozen years, on average. We’re talking about people who have U.S. citizen children, so clearly they have put down roots. Most of them work, of course, and pay taxes, and never perhaps ever see that refund. So, they’re folks that are contributing to the economy as well.

So, I think, unfortunately, that they’re stuck in the crosshairs of paralysis in Washington, which is in Congress and which unfortunately has now spilled to the court. But I don’t see that they’re going to all pack up and leave.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that, Jon Feere? Do you — should they pack up and leave?

JON FEERE: I don’t know that there has been a paralysis necessarily.

It’s just that the advocates for amnesty and more immigration haven’t got what they wanted, and President Obama himself knows that this policy is unpopular. If it were popular, he wouldn’t have waited until after the midterm to announce this. He didn’t want to have to have Republicans or Democrats defending something while voters were heading to the ballot box.

So, we — the people have spoken. They have denied the Marco Rubio amnesty bill. They stopped the amnesty back under President Bush. And the DREAM Act, which has been introduced multiple times, went nowhere.

So it’s not so much that we’re in limbo. It’s just that we have an administration, not that different from the previous administration, that isn’t committed to enforcing our immigration laws.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And so you’re saying that — that, what, that — what should happen to these individuals right now?

JON FEERE: Well, under federal law, they are supposed to go home.

It was noted a moment ago that they’re not tourists, but, in fact, plenty of them actually did come as tourists. They just lied to the State Department and lied to the American people and overstayed their visas.

And if we’re going to have any sense of rule of law in this country, people have to abide by the terms that we set forth when they come in.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that, Angela Kelley?

ANGELA MARIA KELLEY: Well, we do have, look, a record number of people who have been deported under this president. He has hardly been a softy on illegal immigration.

And we have a tremendous buildup at the border, so that illegal immigration in the United States is basically at zero. The question is, what are we going to do about these folks? I think the president did wait very patiently. The Senate did pass a bipartisan bill on comprehensive immigration reform, and the House failed to act.

So it’s a question of — it’s not an amnesty, but I think what we need is an answer. And, interestingly enough, polls that came out yesterday show that 78 percent of independents support with the 11 million, not deporting them, but giving them a path to citizenship.

So, we’re talking about just very sensible, what are we going to do? What are some commonsense solutions?

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, in the meantime, the court — we don’t have an answer.

ANGELA MARIA KELLEY: Correct.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in the meantime, Mr. Feere’s point is that they are here illegally. They are here without documents.

ANGELA MARIA KELLEY: Well, Mr. Feere should feel comfortable in the fact that immigration deportations are going to continue, that we have a robust ICE presence and Border Patrol forces.

But that, to me, isn’t really the answer. Look, we have an immigration system that hasn’t been updated since 1990. I mean, just think about that. And so until Congress does its job and appoints a ninth — the appoints a ninth justice on the Supreme Court, passes immigration reform, we’re going to have these dysfunctions, not just in our immigration system, but across many sectors of America.

And, clearly, we deserve better.

JON FEERE: Of course, if you look at actual ICE data, deportations have fallen dramatically over the past five or six years, and not just deportations of nonviolent people, but even deportations of criminal aliens has dropped down dramatically over the past five years.

What this administration has decided, outside deferred action, is that they’re going to narrow the scope of deportation. And, virtually, you are not going to be facing deportation unless you are a violent criminal. And, in fact, Obama’s former ICE director said that exact thing to The L.A. Times last year.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me just quote to you part of what President Obama said.

He said: “It’s heartbreaking for the millions of immigrants who have made their lives here, who have raised their families here, who hoped for the opportunity to work, to pay taxes, to serve in our military, and more fully contribute to the country.”

JON FEERE: I think the American people are the most generous people on the planet when it comes to immigration. We welcome in more people for permanent residency every year than any other country on the planet by a mile.

It’s just that our generosity, I think, is being taken advantage of. I think Americans are starting to sour on even the concept of immigration, because they see people who are not playing by the rules, who are breaking the laws, who are actually lying to us, cutting in front of lines of people who are playing by the rules, taking the time and the money and the effort to do it the right way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that?

ANGELA MARIA KELLEY: Well, look, life is messy. And the undocumented people don’t live in an apartment building all by themselves. Right?

So they marry Americans. They have citizen children. They work shoulder to shoulder with other people. They go to mosque. They go to church. They go to synagogue with other folks.

So the idea that we’re going to somehow take them all out and remove them, and that that is not going to upset the balance of this country, is just — is just foolish and scary.

Here’s what we do know, is that, in 2012, when the president announced deferred action for dreamers, that, since then, we have had over 700,000 young people come forward, get work authorization, pay taxes, get better jobs.

That, to me, is a program that makes sense, not just for those families, but for the country. So, that’s the direction I would suggest we go in.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quick final word.

JON FEERE: Until we see an end to illegal immigration and an actual commitment from our policy-makers to actually enforce our immigration laws, any type of legalization program is just going to encourage more people to come across the border, to risk their lives, and to overstay visas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jon Feere, Angela Maria Kelley, and, earlier, Marcia Coyle, we thank you, all three.

JON FEERE: Thank you.

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