Rob Horowitz: Obama’s Immigration Executive Order; Good Policy and Good Politics

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


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Rob Horowitz

President Obama’s carefully calibrated, but still truly impacting Executive Order on Immigration, unveiled last week in a Thursday evening address to the nation from the Oval Office, marries good policy with good politics.

The Executive Order makes more so-called ‘dreamers’-immigrants who arrived here as children---not subject to deportation; enables parents who have lived in the United States with children who are citizens or lawful permanent residents to come out of the shadows as long as they pass a criminal background check pay taxes and register; streamlines the process for certain legal immigrants with the goal of enabling more highly skilled workers to more easily stay in the United States, and provides more resources for border security: and more heavily prioritizes deporting criminals.  Obama’s order gives temporary deportation relief to nearly half of undocumented immigrants and will be in effect for at least the remaining 3 years of his Presidency.

Obama's Executive Order

Framing his actions as flowing from fundamental American values, President Obama  said, “My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal -– that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.

Because of the limitations of what Obama can do alone using prosecutorial discretion and other executive powers, these actions fall well short of what can be accomplished through comprehensive legislation. Still, the President’s order accomplishes much, including giving millions of undocumented immigrants the opportunity to come out of the shadows, preventing families from being torn apart, and providing an economic boost

The order is not only good policy; it is good politics.  The steps contained in this Executive Order are broadly popular with the general public and further cement Obama’s and the Democratic Party’s commanding advantage with Latino voters who now comprise more than 10% of the Presidential year electorate.

Obama and Congress

Further, Obama did an effective job of using the bully pulpit to emphasize that his decision to move unilaterally was due to the fact the Republican House of Representatives had failed to act, pointing out that it had been more than 500 days since the Senate by an overwhelming majority had passed comprehensive immigration reform and there was still no forward movement in the House.   As the President said at a follow-up event in Las Vegas the day after his speech, “I hear some people say, ‘Well, we’re in favor of immigration reform but we don’t think that it should be done without Congress.’ Well, Congress, go ahead and do it.”

As was reported over the weekend by The Hill and other publications, Republican Congressional leaders are realizing that they need to have a measured response.   They are already beginning to back off their initial posture that unilateral action by President Obama on immigration would so poison the well that it would make it impossible for them to work with the President on any of the challenges facing the nation.  Blaming Presidential action on immigration for policy gridlock is a recipe for doing even worse in 2016 with this key and growing segment of the electorate than the 27% of Latino voters that 2012 Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney garnered.  So is rolling back any of the major provisions of the Order itself.  And the smart strategists in the Republican Party know it.


As a result, President Obama’s Executive Order may actually have the opposite effect of what many pundits initially predicted and contribute to the breaking apart of gridlock, generating at least some Congressional action on this important issue.

Taken strictly on its own terms, this consequential Executive Order moves us closer to a sensible immigration policy, honoring our values and enabling the nation to realize more of the renewal, innovation and growth which throughout our history has always followed a more expansive, welcoming approach.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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