Republicans in the House have refused to act on the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in June of 2013, leading President Obama to announce that if they do not act soon he will use his authority to issue an executive order granting legal status to millions with family members who already have legal status. The outcry from the “family values” party has been deafening.
Republican congressmen have called him “lawless” and accused him of “shredding the Constitution,” calling it an “unprecedented” usurpation of congressional authority. There have even been calls for impeachment if he acts unilaterally.
But is it unprecedented? The answer is a resounding “no.” It was done by two of the previous three presidents with no one calling for impeachment.
In 1986, Congress passed and Ronald Reagan signed into law sweeping immigration reform which was immediately recognized as being flawed with provisions that would divide families, deporting some while members of the same family would be allowed to stay.
In 1987 when Congress failed to amend the law, Reagan acted through the INS to allow the minor children and spouses of those who were granted amnesty by the new law to stay in the country — and there was not one peep about impeachment or lawless behavior by the president.
In 1989 the Senate passed a measure that would have allowed those covered by the executive action to stay with an 81-17 vote and the House failed to act on it.
In February of 1990, President George H.W. Bush acting through the INS, granted “family fairness” which allowed up to 1.5 million family members of immigrants who benefited from the 1986 law to stay without fear of deportation and work in the U.S. Once again there was no uproar and in October of that year, Congress passed another immigration reform law making their status permanent.
Fast forward to July of 2012 and President Obama’s executive action creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which granted legal status to undocumented immigrants brought to the country before the age of 16 if they met certain criteria such as having graduated from high school. The program has granted about 600,000 with protection against deportation for at least two years. Cue the outrage.
In the current Congress after months of work crafting a new reform bill, the Senate passed a bill in June of 2013 that would create a path to citizenship for immigrants able to meet strict criteria by a healthy 68-32 margin, which Speaker Boehner refused to even bring to the floor of the House for a vote. The president said in an interview with Telemundo that he was not comfortable with taking executive action that would grant amnesty to the parents of “Dreamers,” those covered by DACA saying that “would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally. So that’s not an option.”
Now, as 2014 draws to an end with still no attempt by Congress to pass a reform bill, the president has become frustrated by their refusal to act and is expected to announce that he will take executive action to delay deportation for members of the families of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. The action would not grant legal status but it would grant temporary protection from deportation and the possibility of obtaining work permits.
With the take-over of the Republican party by Tea Party extremists, Congressional Republicans have declared actions taken by both Reagan and the elder Bush are “unconstitutional” and have raised the specter of impeachment should the president take that same path.