What's next for immigration reform?

Published: Saturday, July 5 2014 5:45 p.m. MDT

While Obama gave no indication how he might use executive power to make other administrative changes in the immigration system, he may have authority to extend deferred action to parents unauthorized to be in the United States whose children have been approved for DACA. Another option may be extend DACA to siblings of youths previously granted the approval, she said.

Another option, Williams said, could be granting temporary protected status to the recent surge of Central American immigrants — most of them children — crossing the U.S. border.

"It's getting close to the president maxing out limits on his authority what he can do," she said.

Enforcement changes

While immigration reform has not been achieved during Obama's presidency, the administration has changed its enforcement practices, says Mark Alvarez, a Spanish language radio talk show host and attorney.

Workplace raids have been replaced with audits of employees' paperwork. If the audits determine employees are not authorized in the United States, their employers must fire them.

In 2011, then-federal prosecutors and Immigration and Customs Enforcement were instructed by then-ICE director John Morton to focus on deporting dangerous criminals and, when appropriate, close cases of people who have no criminal records, have jobs, or are attending school and don’t pose a threat to society.

Alvarez, who has largely supported Obama's action in the absence of Congress acting on immigration reform, said he is ordinarily uncomfortable ceding more power to the executive branch "because it quibbles with our checks and balances. With the crisis we have in immigration, I think there's justification for the use of that executive power."

Mathis said he believes Utah's congressional delegation is committed to reforming the nation's immigration system but they are "constrained by a larger national political calculation."

Both parties have used immigration reform as a wedge issue to win primary elections or to drum up support from their respective bases, Mathis said

"The cynical calculations seem purely bent on craven political gain and not on doing the right thing for the American people and the American economy," he said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, however, should be singled out for praise "because he actually worked with his colleagues to try and find a solution in the Senate," Mathis said.

Impact on immigrants

Alvarez said Obama's statement, "If Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours," has stirred a lot of speculation among pundits and confusion for people who are not authorized to be in the United States.

Whatever Obama does, it won't happen overnight, he said. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals took a few months to implement, and applicants then had to wait to learn whether they had been approved.

The Morton memo encouraged a kinder approach to enforcement but its application can vary depending on which officer responds to a call or what prosecutor draws the case.

"As a lawyer I worry about the unevenness of how these cases are handled. Why does one person get prosecutorial discretion and another does not?" Alvarez said.

It remains to be seen whether Congress will respond to Obama's announcement, particularly with midterm elections just four months away.

"One could logically think that maybe this is the last chit being played in this game. I hope that's true," Alvarez said.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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