This Friday the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the challenge to President Obama’s executive actions deferring deportation for an estimated 4.5 million qualified parents and children. The three-judge panel is unlikely to reverse the district court’s injunction against implementing the order, putting pressure on Congress to renew the immigration reform debate.
Protecting families from deportation is an improvement over mass deportation, but “deferred” action implies that the goal is still eventual removal. Moreover, Congress should be the one leading policy changes, not the executive branch. Real reform will only come from fixing the legal immigration system to allow for legal ways to enter and work in the United States, which is a step only Congress can take.
Prospects for a reversal on Friday are bleak. Two of the three appellate judges were appointed by Republican presidents and served on previous panels that ruled against the Administration on deferral programs. This sets the stage for the Supreme Court to take the case next year in another huge showdown between the GOP and President Obama.
In the meantime, immigration reform proponents must take their case back to Congress, which has been thrust to the backburner after the president announced his unilateral actions in November.
Fortunately, reformers now have in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program a three-year experiment in granting quasi-legal status to certain unauthorized aliens.
The American Immigration Council released a study last year that found 59 percent of DACA applicants obtained new jobs; 49 percent opened their first bank accounts; one-third obtained their first credit cards; and nearly half saw increased job earnings. UCLA’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment found that 65 percent of DACA applicants reported improved household economic conditions.
But these results are minor compared to the huge economic benefits from Congress passing comprehensive immigration reform (S.744), which would have included offering legal status and work authorization to the undocumented, launching a new guest-worker program, expanding high-skilled immigration, and doubling employment-based green cards.
As I have noted before, this reform, according to the CBO, would reduce the federal budget deficit by $850 billion and increased GDP 5.4 percent ($1.4 trillion) over 20 years while slightly improving wages and not having any impacts on employment.
This was not the only study on the CIR. In 2012, economist Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda found that the Senate bill could produce $1.5 trillion more in GDP over ten years while boosting both native-born and immigrant wages. The following year, economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin found that immigration reform would raise the pace of economic growth by nearly a percentage point, raise GDP per capita over $1,500, and reduce the federal deficit by $2.5 trillion
It’s clear that immigration reform led by Congress is the key to fixing the U.S. immigration system. No matter how many deferred action plans the Obama Administration tries to offer, the solutions are always temporary and do not address the underlying causes of illegal immigration. Only immigration reform, which includes expansions to legal immigration channels, will end illegal immigration.
With the president’s executive actions mired in legal troubles, Congress should enact substantial reform that offers immigrants opportunities to come and stay here legally. Lawmakers should renew talks on immigration reform. It’s the only viable, long-term solution.