Press reports indicate that President Obama plans to issue an order that will effectively legalize millions of illegal aliens. Doing so would be unjust, costly and will encourage more illegal immigration.
If early press reports turn out to be accurate as to who is covered by the order, the order will also be much different than the earlier Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) amnesty. DACA provided legalization for illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children. According to DHS, approximately 550,000 individuals had their DACA applications approved by March of 2014.
A new administrative amnesty would not really change the situation on the ground. The Obama administration has already made clear it is going to focus on convicted felons and more or less not enforce the law regarding deportations with respect to everyone else.
Not enforcing the law is unjust. It is unjust to those who follow the law and voluntarily leave when their visas expire or do not come to the United States because they are unauthorized. There are millions of people like this in Mexico alone. Not enforcing the laws forfeits government’s primary responsibility to establish justice.
Issuing an order that purports to be using prosecutorial discretion, like the DACA memo of June 2012 did, will not really change the threat of deportation, since there is essentially no threat of deportation now. Essentially, such an order would formalize current policy and reward those who broke the law. The message to the rest of the world will be that the United States, officially, has said it will not enforce its immigration laws except for those who commit certain other crimes.
Part of the reasoning for DACA was that the grantees of amnesty were “innocent young children,” in the words of the president. Press Secretary Jay Carney said, “This administration has taken [steps] to help so-called DREAMers … individuals in this country, through no fault of their own.” The logic of such an order was, in part, that these individuals did not do anything wrong so they should not be punished. That rationale is not present for the parents of DREAMers or the parents of U.S. citizens. These potential grantees of amnesty knowingly broke the law and entered or stayed in the country illegally. An amnesty for them would signal to other future illegal immigrants that the way to a future amnesty is to bring children along or give birth to them in the United States. This would incentivize wrongful behavior – endangering children or incentivizing pregnancy to use the children as a means to stay in the United States.
An amnesty for those who knowingly entered the United States is unjust – rewarding illegal behavior and incentivizing more of that behavior. The president should not expand his administrative amnesty.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Heritage Foundation.