Friday, November 21, 2014 - Volume 5, Number 13

© Copyright 2014, The Ultrapolis Project.  All Rights Reserved.

Obama Acts on Immigration: The Why Behind the When

Did Reagan and Bush Really Set the Precedent?


·         Cartoon: Turkey Politics by John Darkow





Obama’s Perfect


The Payoff in Ditching the Honeymoon Period With Congress


Last night the President of the United States delivered another address to the nation, this time to announce a far-reaching and highly controversial executive order; an order that will offer protection from enforcement of current federal immigration laws to about five million people that are in the country illegally.


As he nearly always is when he speaks to the nation, he was articulate; and he very nicely and fairly explained the complex illegal immigration problem that has vexed the country almost since the last immigration reform legislation was passed, even correctly pointing out why illegal immigration cannot be excused.  He is as nuanced and fluent with his words as his predecessor was clumsy and clunky with his.  Midway, though, he then, in a shell game only a conservative would care to notice, conflated illegal and legal immigrants as the same in the history of American immigration and American values.


He then made the argument that Americans don’t split up families because one of them broke the law.  Except, that we often do in many ways that go beyond immigration. (We agree this is a consideration, but cannot be made into a blanket free pass to flout immigrations laws.)


Executive Order of a Whole New Order


The President’s action is striking for several reasons:


1.     It is an about-face of his previous statements on the subject indicating he did not have the authority to act without Congressional authorization.

2.     It comes in the wake of a stinging electoral rebuke, and promises of “working together” and seeking compromise with the Republicans (we said in our November 10 issue that these promises were largely empty).

3.     It affects five million people, and its scope and expansion of presidential power is something we likely have not seen since President Lincoln in the midst of a horrifically violent and cruel civil war.


Now, some of the President’s defenders have pointed to the executive orders of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, also regarding illegal immigrants, as precedents for President Obama’s actions, and proof that this is not an expansion of presidential power.  However, while these two Republican predecessors did issue executive orders offering similar protection to immigrants similarly undocumented, they both did so in response to a new law passed by Congress, in an effort to address an oversight in that law, and affected far fewer people.


Continued column 2 >



Ultrapolis World Forecast & Review

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Editor: Marco Antonio Roberts

Copy Editor: Michael Alberts

Contributing Editors:

Mark Eastman

Mark Steele









< From column 1


The Amnesty to End All Amnesties


The law offered amnesty to about three million people.  But, under its qualifications for amnesty, the law unintentionally did not take into account the also-undocumented spouses and children of those who qualified for amnesty, who did not themselves qualify.   The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was silent on this issue.  President Reagan, seeking to avoid the splitting up of families as a clearly unintended consequence of the law, elected to defer any deportation actions on the families of people covered by the amnesty enacted by Congress.  President Bush I merely extended that protection, and according to accounts cited by The Atlantic, that action only affected about 140,000 people.


In summary, the executive orders by Reagan and Bush I were in the context of executing the intent of an act of Congress, the opposite of undermining the laws it has passed.


The 1986 law was very controversial, and many Republicans opposed the Republican president that signed it into law, predicting the law would only make the problem worse.  That law was passed with the promise that it would be a one–time act.  Yet, it is a fact that after amnesty was granted, illegal immigration increased, and we now have an estimated three times the number of undocumented immigrants as in 1986.


Yes, the illegal immigrant population has stabilized since President Obama took office.  This is due to the real, increased efforts of the administration to deport more criminal illegal aliens, but also coincides with the economic recession that greeted Obama’s presidency.  We fully expect that if unemployment AND labor force participation rates return to normal levels, and the border is not further secured, illegal immigration will resume in full force.


Polarization in Overdrive


We said in our November 10 issue that, aside from piecemeal efforts at bi-partisan cooperation, “once the President takes unilateral executive action on immigration, or the Congress passes a repeal of Obamacare, the realities of the polarized American electorate will reassert themselves, and gridlock at the national level will return with a new vengeance.”


We underestimated how quickly, and unashamedly, President Obama would elect to usher that return.


Continued column 3 >


< From column 2


The Logic of Poisoning the Well


In hindsight, we see now advantages for the President in not giving the new Congress a six-month window of goodwill to act.   If the new Congress, now clearly in the hands of the Republicans, did pass immigration reform, it would give political credit to the Republicans among Hispanic voters, ahead of the 2016 elections.  And if they do ignore the poke in the eye, and pass immigration reform, he can say he prodded them to it.  (Note:  in 2014 Republicans gained ground with Hispanics as compared to 2012, and in some Texas precincts, male Hispanics favored Republicans over Democrats).   As a whole, Hispanics are actually more culturally conservative than most white or black Anglo Democrats, and it has been the immigration issue that has kept many voting Democrat.  This is a real problem for Democrats.


What about ‘poisoning the well’ and all that?  Won’t the President suffer politically from seeming to provoke the Republicans?  As we also pointed out many times, and especially in our November 10 issue, we have a highly polarized electorate.  Almost no Democrat will fault the President for this act, and with his approval numbers already close to record lows, he has few others to lose.  With this unilateral act he can take unilateral credit.


Then there is one additional plus in provoking the Republicans:  success in provoking the Republicans into doing something incredibly stupid, a very real possibility.   But it is a risky proposition. If the Republican leadership is able to steer the party away from falling into President Obama’s trap, he may have handed the Republicans the very tools for dismantling his legacy.


Guns Blazing


The added cost to the President is that this is his last big shot.  He is a bit like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the gang gone, the two holed up and surrounded by a usually inept, but much larger Bolivian army.  Obama has decided to come out with guns blazing.  But, he can’t keep issuing far-reaching executive orders without the republic, including even the Democrats in it, becoming alarmed.


The President saw reason not to act before the election.  Now he sees reason not to wait for the next Congress.  In politics, as with so many things in life, timing is everything.




Our forecast record cannot be beat.  One can follow the herd chasing the latest hyperbolic, melodramatic, and soon-forgotten micro-trend, or one can be wisely and judiciously in front of it with UWFR. 


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