Shifting Pressure, Shifting Strategies – Whose Move Will Be Checkmate?

Author: on March 27, 2014

shutterstock_55028839Chess is a two-player strategy game. Each player begins with 16 pieces: A king, a queen, two rooks, two knights, two bishops, and eight pawns. Pieces are used to attack and capture, with the objective to ‘checkmate’ the opponent’s king by inescapably trapping him. Strategy, however, is the key to each move.

Just like politics.

In June of 2012 President Obama sent shockwaves from Pennsylvania Avenue, to Capitol Hill, and across the nation by announcing he would defer the deportation of young undocumented immigrants through a process later termed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). A few months later the President was re-elected with the overwhelming support of the Latino community and the conversation about immigration began to shift. Republicans and Democrats were both talking about when, not whether, immigration reform would become a reality.

One year later, the Senate passed bipartisan comprehensive immigration legislation. Suddenly immigration reform had real momentum. DREAMers, immigration advocates, and pundits called upon the House of Representatives to finish the job the Senate had started and send an immigration reform bill to the President for signature.

But then it all seemed to hit a brick wall.

While both parties have taken a few steps forward, whether it’s the House Republican Standards for Immigration Reform, or the Democrats presenting H.R. 15, no real fixes to our broken immigration system have been implemented. It has been over 200 days since the Senate passed a thorough immigration reform bill and more than 45 days since those House GOP standards were released, yet the prospect of any positive bills making it out of the 113th Congress are looking increasingly bleak.

Politics have taken over the rhetoric with all sides throwing accusations and shifting blame for inaction.  Conservatives argue they cannot trust the current administration to enforce the laws.  Yet they ignore the fact that the current administration has deported more immigrants than the two previous administrations combined.

Advocates feel frustrated that the House is unwilling to reach across the table to work in a bipartisan manner to finish the job the Senate started.  Yet they also fear that if they make a radical move reform will die a slow, painful, disheartening death on the steps of the Capitol.

As if engaged in a game of chess, many, who started mobilizing their pieces with pressure on the House to take action, are now shifting their rooks to pressure President Obama to stop deportations.  We’ve seen field activists at work, fasting for reform and holding protests which has upped the media coverage and drawn attention to blatant violations of human rights and defiance of the dysfunctional immigration laws that continue to separate families.

How far do the American people have to go for their leaders to listen?  Poll after poll highlights that the American people want reform of our immigration laws, that the majority favor a fair and just avenue for the 11 million to fully integrate into our economic and social fabric.  Study after study demonstrates the economic and prosperity benefits of immigration reform and report after report shows that we need smarter enforcement, not necessarily more money thrown at the border.

Yet despite the strong public support for reform, no floor votes on immigration have yet been scheduled. Advocates are shifting pressure and tactics to see who will make the next move – will Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) have the courage to listen to the American public and not the extremists in the House? Will President Obama take further administrative measures to protect American families from being torn apart while the House delays acting on immigration reform?

Meanwhile, American families are feeling the pain and anguish and businesses are losing millions in revenue. But unlike the game of chess, there is no “King” to checkmate. The only inescapable threat of capture lies with the American people being held hostage by the politics of the game. So the question is: what bold move must be taken to get reform back on track?

The President’s directive to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the summer of 2012 to establish DACA was reasonable, humane, and smart enforcement. Every agency holds discretion in enforcement to ensure the security of our communities and to maximize their limited resources.

This month’s call by the President on Jeh Johnson, the newly appointed head of DHS, to look for ways to “more humanely” enforce immigration laws seems promising. A move welcomed by advocates and an opportunity for the agency to embrace our American values of due process, liberty and humanity. The agency’s use of prosecutorial discretion and the administration’s encouragement to find ways to ease the disheartening effects of the current system while our leaders continue to move three pawns, shift two knights and glide one bishop across the board toward a bipartisan reform bill is not only the right move, but one that acknowledges our family values and can ease the economic losses of our businesses while maintaining the security of our communities.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA Treasurer

  • mkolken

    The President could utilize existing law and procedures to provide permanent solutions to many immigration problems without jeopardizing immigration reform. Specifically, he could expand parole in place (PIP) to immediate relatives of United States citizens who are currently ineligible to apply for a Green Card because they entered the United States without inspection. PIP could also be extended to beneficiaries of approved I-130/140s while they wait for a visa number to become available. This would provide an bridge to a Green Card, and ultimately citizenship while also stopping the destruction of families.

    Deferred action could be expanded to parents of citizen/LPR children under 21 and parents of DACA recipients.

    Thinking outside the box, parents of citizen/LPR children under 21 that have lived continuously inside the country for ten years could have immigration court proceedings instituted against for the specific purpose of allowing them to apply for cancellation of removal, which application provides a basis for the issuance of employment authorization, and the administration could instruct the Department to move the Court to grant the application, which results in the issuance of a Green Card.

    The President could also create a new provisional nonimmigrant unlawful presence waiver process for individuals currently inside the United States without status. This would allow people to apply for a waiver before they depart the country, as their departure triggers a bar from return. If the pre-approved waiver is granted individuals would be able to avoid deportation by departing the country without penalty, and then potentially return legally with a work visa if one is available to them.

    The administration should also be more proactive providing guidance as to the availability of humanitarian relief, such as the protections available to victims of abuse, human trafficking, and other crimes. A memorandum on the clarification of the grounds for humanitarian asylum could be issued to permit individuals that have suffered other serious harm unrelated to the grounds for asylum to feel more comfortable affirmatively applying for protection. President Obama could also expand the list of countries designated for eligibility for Temporary Protected Status due to conditions that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or if the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately. The President could ensure that the previous prosecutorial discretion and detention memorandums are actually enforced, and enforced uniformly.

    Point being, there are options available to the President to provide a way for the undocumented population to use the existing law to their advantage.