The President’s Administrative Action on Immigration and the Way Forward

November 21, 2014

From the Executive Director

When it comes to immigration, the one thing that all sides agree upon is that our current system is broken.  It is a system that is out of step with our nation’s economic and security needs and core values, and a system that has led to 11 million people living in, working in, and contributing to our country with no realistic path to legal status.  Despite consistently strong public backing for comprehensive reform of this system and a reform bill that passed the Senate with broad bipartisan support, Congress has yet to pass a bill, and the House shows no credible signs of doing so.

In the midst of this continued and growing dysfunction, the administrative actions announced by President Obama yesterday will help focus the government’s limited enforcement resources where they are most needed.  These actions also will promote accountability by bringing millions of children and families out of the shadows, improve the justice system, and improve our communities.

Yesterday’s administrative actions are only a first step, a temporary and incomplete solution to a multifaceted problem.  These actions do not fix the fundamental flaws in our immigration system, and there is much for all of us in Chicago’s legal community to do to move this issue forward in a positive direction, no matter how you may view the President’s actions.  Specifically, the need for Congress to finally act on comprehensive reform has never been greater, which was stated well by the Chicago Tribune in an editorial this week, and many thousands of Illinoisans will need quality legal help to ensure they get a fair shake under the new programs.

How Did We Get Here?
While the current immigration system is complicated and the problems it causes widespread, the solutions are relatively straightforward and have broad, bipartisan support. The CBA and CBF’s fact sheet summarizes the key steps necessary to truly solve the problem, which were explained more in a recent article in the CBA Record.

Unfortunately, as the system grows more intolerable and out of step with our nation’s needs and values every day, Congress has been unable to fix the problem.  Among many other unfortunate consequences of this inaction, the current dysfunction creates a host of unique and wholly avoidable access to justice challenges for many thousands of immigrants in our community.  That is why comprehensive reform has been one of the CBF’s advocacy priorities for many years now.

The American public consistently supports comprehensive reform by wide margins.  The roster of supporters includes the CBA, ISBA and ABA, the business community, a diverse range of faith-based organizations, and many others from across the political spectrum.  That breadth of support was reflected when the Senate last year passed a comprehensive reform bill with broad, bipartisan backing.  The President quickly committed that he would sign that bill if it gets to his desk.  However, the House leadership has not called the bill for a vote, even though it is widely believed it has more than enough votes to pass right now, nor has the House shown any credible signs of taking any other action to fix the system.

The President’s Actions
As Congress continues to kick the can down the road, there are now 11 million people in the country without legal status, an immigration enforcement system that realistically can focus on only a small fraction of them, and huge backlogs in the immigration courts.

Through yesterday’s administrative action, the President is using well-established prosecutorial discretion authority that Presidents in both parties have used many times before to focus enforcement resources where they are most needed: focusing on border security and on the small fraction of immigrants who have committed serious crimes or pose a risk to public safety.  While the scale of this administrative action is larger than that used by Presidents in the past, it reflects the fact that the scale of the problems caused by the current dysfunction in the immigration system has never been larger.

Next Steps
There are concrete steps we in Chicago’s legal community can and must take to move this issue forward in a positive direction, regardless of how you may view the President’s actions this week.

As noted above, to truly fix the problems in the immigration system, we need to redouble our advocacy efforts towards a comprehensive and permanent solution.  At the same time, there are thousands of Illinoisans who soon will need quality legal help to ensure they get a fair shake under the new administrative programs.  The CBF is one of the leaders in several coalitions of government officials, foundations, nonprofits, and other stakeholders working to maximize the availability of quality resources and legal help.  The hub for these Illinois resources is www.ilisready.org.

In the coming months, we expect there to be a number of pro bono opportunities for lawyers and legal professionals in the Chicago area to assist people eligible for the new programs and additional advocacy needs, and we will provide more updates soon.  In the meantime, please feel free to contact us if you have questions or are interested in getting more involved.

Bob Glaves, CBF Executive Director