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Obama executive power to reform US immigration

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President Barack Obama is preparing to use his executive powers as President to reform the US immigration system, because of the inability of Congress to pass immigration reform legislation. This is despite the fact that both main political parties the Democrats and Republicans agree that change is necessary.

The President says he will have to make 'tough choices' on immigration. He intends to use his executive powers given the failure of Congress to act. One Republican member of the House of Representatives, Representative Steve King of Iowa, has called on his fellow Republicans to impeach the President if he does. reported recently that the President was intending to use his executive powers to introduce amendments to the system.


Under the US system, Congress passes new laws while the President runs the executive branch which is responsible for implementing and enforcing those laws. Congress also has to approve budgets for the federal government.

For a bill to become law, it must be passed by both houses of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives. At present, this hardly ever happens because the Democrats control the Senate and the Republicans who are very anti Obama control the House of Representatives.

In the past even when Congress was evenly split, legislation would pass because the two main political parties would negotiate and offer support to each other's legislation in order to get things moving, meaning that bills would be passed more easily. However, in the last eight years, this cooperation has all but ended, resulting in a stalemate which makes it increasingly difficult to pass any new legislation.

Immigration reform Bill

The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill in June 2013. It was drafted by four Republicans and four Democrats, known as the Gang of Eight, who came out with what was thought to be a mutually acceptable bill.

The bill was originally drafted to deal with the Republicans' concerns about border security and to deal with all the major immigration problems facing the US. President Obama called it a 'compromise' bill in which no party got everything they wanted.

If it becomes law, the bill will:

  • Increase spending on border security
  • Establish a 'pathway to citizenship' for most illegal immigrants. It would take over thirteen years for those who apply to become citizens
  • Award permanent resident visas (or 'green cards') for foreign students who receive doctorates and PhDs from US universities
  • Increase the number of H-1B 'specialty occupation' temporary work visas for graduate level work granted each year from 85,000 annually to a maximum of about 200,000 annually
  • Create a 'w-visa' for low-skilled workers in agriculture and construction
  • Require US employers to check the employment status of all workers against the E-Verify system before employing them

Executive Powers

Unfortunately, because of the lack of cooperation in Washington today, the Republican speaker of the House, John Boehner, has prevented the immigration reform bill even being presented to the House of Representatives, meaning that there will not even be a vote to decide whether to pass the immigration reform legislation or not. Therefore it stands virtually no chance of becoming law any time soon.

Because of this, Mr Obama is considering what steps he can take to reform the system himself. He announced in July that he had asked the Attorney General to see what options he had. This will mean using his executive powers.

While the President cannot make laws himself, he can change the way that the law is applied by use of executive orders. George Washington issued the first executive order in the eighteenth century and every president since has used these powers.

Constitutional lawyers suggest that there are quite a few options open to Mr Obama and that he is well within his rights to introduce changes to the system.


Immigration reform campaigners argue that the President must act now. Frank Sharry of America's Voice, a pro-reform group, says that the president is duty-bound to intervene now that it is clear that Congress will not budge on the issue.

But Congressional Republicans claim that, if he did use his executive powers, the President would be guilty of 'overreaching' his powers. This is why Representative King, and other Republicans such as the House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte of Texas are threatening to commence impeachment proceedings if he does.

All this is testament to the poisonous atmosphere which currently pervades Washington. Since President Obama was elected to the presidency in 2008, Republicans have fought every one of his initiatives tooth and nail.

This is because, during the President's two terms in office, the Republican Party, under the influence of the grassroots Tea Party movement, has moved further to the right. Tea Party Republicans tend to view President Obama with deep suspicion.

Many Tea Party sympathisers see the President as a dangerous left-winger with communist sympathies. Others believe him to be a Muslim who sympathises with the terrorists who destroyed the Twin Towers in 2001. Others still (or more probably the same ones) believe him to have been born abroad, perhaps in Kenya.

If Mr Obama was born abroad this would be extremely serious, were it true, because, according to the US Constitution, only American citizens born within the United States are allowed to become President. The President made his birth certificate publicly available which showed he was born in the US state of Hawaii in 1961. Predictably, those who believe the President to be foreign-born were not convinced and declared it a forgery. The other remarks also make little sense. Mr Obama is obviously not a Muslim. In addition it is unlikely that many Muslims sympathise with the attack on the Twin Towers.

The Attorney General and Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of Homeland Security, will report back to the President at the end of the summer with a list of options for the use of his executive powers.