JIM LEHRER: And to a new policy affecting thousands of illegal immigrants in the United States.
Ray Suarez has that story.
RAY SUAREZ: The Obama administration has unveiled a significant change regarding immigration policy in this country. Under the new rules, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will reassess some 300,000 deportation cases, in an effort to focus on deporting criminals, while dismissing the cases of those illegal immigrants who pose little threat to public safety.
In addition, immigration officials will determine case by case priority by considering how long someone has been in the country, their level of schooling, any military service and their ties to the community.
We get two different views on the new rules from Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, and Angela Maria Kelley, vice president for immigration policy and advocacy for the Center for American Progress.
Well, Dan Stein, for the millions who are already here undocumented without a right to be here, what’s different as of today?
DAN STEIN, Federation for American Immigration Reform: Listen, I care about immigration. I care about my country. I care about our constitutional framework, with its checks and balances, where Congress, with its plenary authority, establishes who can come in, who can stay, and under what terms.
The president faithfully executes the laws of the land. That means carries out the law as passed by Congress. In this new policy, which appears to potentially apply to millions and millions of illegal immigrants, there appears to be no limit to the potential affirmative exercise of discretion on behalf of illegal immigrants and giving them work authorization indefinitely.
This is a form of amnesty that — that runs around the prerogatives of Congress to set the terms of the law. And as much as — whether you care or not, or whether you support amnesty or want people to stay who you think are good people, you have to be concerned about the broader issues here, which is that, if it doesn’t matter what Congress says, if it doesn’t matter what laws Congress establishes, but the president and the administration can just ignore it and let people stay, under the new policy, if you come in on a tourist visa to go to Disneyland and you never leave, you’re never going to be deported.
RAY SUAREZ: Angela Kelley, was President Obama within his rights, as the president and the head of the executive branch, to do what he did?
ANGELA MARIA KELLEY, Center for American Progress: Absolutely.
Look, the president, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, what they announced is right out of enforcement — law enforcement 101. It’s that you’re setting priorities for who’s to be removed. High-target removals still should be removed from the U.S., people who are involved with drugs, with guns, with violence, people who have criminal records. Of course, we want prioritize those people and remove them all.
But any law enforcement officer will tell you that you have to make priorities. You have to allocate resources wisely. And that’s simply what the administration has done. It’s what other administrations have done in the past. It’s what all law enforcement agencies done — have done.
This isn’t going to be applied to millions of people. There’s going to be careful scrutiny of cases that have been backlogged in the courts for a long time and assessment: Is this person a low risk? Do they have long ties to this country because they came as a child? Is this is a person who has a family member who is serving in the military? If they are, that is not going to be a priority for removal.
If, however, you have someone who has a criminal record, who poses a national security threat, then, of course we’re going to accelerate and we’re going to focus on removing that person. I think that’s smart policy. I think it’s smart law enforcement.
RAY SUAREZ: You just heard Dan Stein call it amnesty. Is it?
ANGELA MARIA KELLEY: Of course it’s not amnesty. I think Dan Stein will call anything an amnesty that is not a mass deportation.
Look, we have to make choices. We have 11 million people here without papers, 11 million. That’s the size of the population of Ohio. We can’t just randomly deport people without really focusing on those who mean to do us harm, those who have a criminal record. That’s something that the Obama administration has done vigorously.
This administration is on track — they will have deported more people than the Bush administration and on track to have deported one million people, 800,000 and counting. This is not a soft, easy-on-illegal-immigrant policy. This is getting smarter about how we allocate taxpayer dollars.
RAY SUAREZ: This, as I understand it, affects those people who are already in the deportation process at some stage or another. Is it smart to put criminals, as Angela Kelley suggests, further up in the line out of the United States?
DAN STEIN: Well, look, Ray, from the moment Napolitano came into office, she started this canard that was begun in the Clinton administration of saying, we’re going to put our resources behind deporting criminal aliens, serious felons, repeat violators, national security threats, as a political cover to essentially suspend deportation and enforcement operations for everyone else.
Naturally, we have had a flood of illegal immigration as a result of the failure to enforce these laws. Now, Angela says, well, we have got 11 million people here illegally. Hey, guess what? You know, we must be doing something wrong.
Now, the Obama administration repeatedly tried to get an amnesty bill through Congress, hasn’t been able to do it. Various smaller versions — still not able to do it. The president himself said he didn’t have the discretion to use various loopholes in the law to try to give work authorization and benefits without Congress’ authorization.
Then he goes off to Martha’s Vineyard, and, suddenly, we get this announcement, OK, we’re essentially telling everybody here illegally that if you don’t fit within these narrow classifications of serious, repeated, aggravated felon, national security threat, you basically got thought to worry about. And if you are apprehended somehow inadvertently by local police, and they turn you over to ICE, well, you’re just going to get released again.
This is going to create an enforcement chaos nightmare. We have no idea how many people we’re talking about. Where are the resources going to come from? If you start giving deferred action — which is nowhere in the statute, by the way — deferred action to 300,000 or 100,000 people, where are the resources to review those cases, screen them?
In the internal memos considering this usurpation, they were saying, we don’t even know where the funding would come from this, so it’s really not a feasible approach. But now they’re doing it anyway.
In our view — and I don’t say this lightly. I know some people like Angela think, well, we’re too hard-hearted. We’re truly concerned about a breakdown in the integrity of this country’s ability to control its borders and determine who has the right to stay and who doesn’t. That is what is at stake here, far broader than the question of the 300,000 people right now in the deportation queue.
RAY SUAREZ: How do you answer Dan Stein’s concerns?
ANGELA MARIA KELLEY: We’re concerned about the same thing.
We’re concerned about having a coherence to our removal procedures and policies. And I’m breathing a sigh of relief because I think this administration is getting a handle on how to do that, by targeting the worst of the worst, rather than deporting the best and the brightest, by being — assessing that we have got limited resources.
These are tough economic times. Nobody has infinite resources — and by targeting those who mean to do us harm, those with criminal records and saying, you’re going to be the first in the queue to be removed, but not only that. The memo is also clear that this isn’t an open program that’s going to protect everyone. It’s very specific.
We’re talking about people who have been in the U.S. as children. We’re talking about people who have a military spouse, some — a close family member in the military. It’s very narrow. I think it’s very smart and very targeted.
But at the end of the day, the only way that we’re going to be getting to a real solution is if Congress steps up and acts. And there has yet to be any will, particularly on the part of Republicans, to get behind a comprehensive bill that would put resolution to what are we going to do about the 11 million people who are here without status.
RAY SUAREZ: Secretary Napolitano said, for her part, that this doesn’t give what she calls categorical relief to anybody…
ANGELA MARIA KELLEY: Correct.
RAY SUAREZ: … who is awaiting deportation.
ANGELA MARIA KELLEY: Case-by-case determination.
RAY SUAREZ: But an official also said that this could lead to legal right to work in the country if it is found that you are not one of those high-security-risk people. How is that not amnesty?
ANGELA MARIA KELLEY: So, for people who are among the 300,000 who are the very lowest priority, those cases will be closed, and the person whose case is closed will have an opportunity to apply for work authorization, time limited, so that they can work in the country. It’s not permanent residency. It doesn’t permit them to travel. It doesn’t give them any permanent benefit.
So, some will get that opportunity to be able to work legally in the U.S., but that’s it, no benefits, nothing else.
And it’s not even, frankly, sure who will get that benefit.
RAY SUAREZ: A very quick response, Dan.
DAN STEIN: Look, the American people have a right to have their fiscal integrity secured through border and perimeter controls, whether it’s good schools, health care, hospitals, our job market. We have the right to compete in a fair labor market where illegal immigrants are not working.
The Obama administration seems to have abandoned any pretense of enforcing U.S. immigration law in the interior. And any dry-eyed look at this analysis will tell you Congress and the American people have been shoved out of the way, and the administration has gone rogue.
RAY SUAREZ: Dan Stein, Angela Kelley, thank you both.
ANGELA MARIA KELLEY: Thank you.
DAN STEIN: Thank you.