President Obama's order has left Republicans from the Senate and the House of Representatives unsure of their position on immigration.
20 June 2012
Obama's immigration move unbalances Republicans
President Barack Obama's decision to issue an executive order which will prevent an estimated 800,000 illegal immigrants from being deported has left Republicans in both Houses of Congress unsure of a response.
President Obama last week issued a directive which stipulated US immigration enforcement officers would stop deportation proceedings and start processing work permits for illegal immigrants aged under 30 who had been in the US since before they were 16 if they had no criminal record and had a high school education or had served in the military.
The president's decision came after prolonged political wrangling over the immigration situation with countless bills and proposals from politicians from both parties stalling at various stages of the process. The most high profile such bill, the decade old DREAM Act, which has been supported by the president on numerous occasions, has encountered difficulties in obtaining enough support from political opponents to pass the law.
Republicans maintain granting any sort of amnesty to illegal immigrants will only encourage illegal immigration and the party has focussed more attention on the writing and enforcement of stricter immigration laws. Arizona's SB 1070, which opponents argue promotes racial profiling, is currently being heard before the Supreme Court while it remains the subject of a lawsuit brought by the Obama administration.
Alabama's HB 56 meanwhile, widely regarded as an even stricter version of SB 1070, is also subject to similar legal challenge. Both laws were written by Republicans.
However, the president's executive order has bypassed both Houses of Congress and was put it into effect immediately.
The order has placed Republicans in a precarious position; with a general election just months away, Republicans risk alienating immigration advocates, particularly Hispanic voters, by opposing the law and risk frustrating their conservative base by supporting the law.
The doubt lies in whether the president's order grants illegal immigrants amnesty, and few politicians are eager to delve into such a contentious issue.
"It all depends on how you define 'amnesty' and I'm not getting into that debate," said Senator John Kyl, the second most senior Republican in the Senate.
"I wouldn't use the A-word to describe this, that's a word that get's used a lot," said Republican Senator John Cornyn, who has previously made his own immigration proposal.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McCornell said it "could be argued" that the president's order provides amnesty "if it leads to citizenship as a reward for some kind of illegal entry" while Senator Saxby Chambliss labelled it 'amnesty light'.
Upon making his announcement, President Obama insisted he was not offering amnesty to illegal immigrants:
"Let's be clear, this is not amnesty, this is not immunity, this is not a path to citizenship, this is not a permanent fix," said the president, promising that his executive order would not be the end of the immigration debate, but that it "is the right thing to do".
Republican senators sidestepped the question claiming they want to hear from President Obama's challenger in November, Republican nominee Mitt Romney, first.
Mr Romney failed to comment on executive order for almost six hours, after which he refused to say whether would reverse the directive as president and instead saying he would support Florida Senator Marco Rubio's as yet unrevealed immigration plan.
While many Republicans have remained quiet about voicing their opinion on the issue, others have not been so cautious. Senator Jim DeMint, a member of the burgeoning Tea Party, was first off the mark to label the president's order as amnesty while Representative Steve King of Iowa has already announced plans to sue the Obama administration over claims the president is not authorised to give such an order.
House Speaker John Boehner, who previously said Senator Rubio would find it 'difficult at best' to find support for his immigration proposal, claims the president's announcement will make it harder for whole scale reform to be achieved.
"I think we all have concerns for those who are caught in this trap, who through no fault of their own are here. But the president's actions are going to make it much more difficult for us to work in a bipartisan way to get to a permanent solution," said the Speaker.
The president's actions have proved positive with both Democrats, who claim Republicans were offered input on many different variations of immigration proposals, and the people; a Bloomberg poll released yesterday showed 64% of likely voters supporting the decision including 86% of Democrats and 44% of Republicans.
The American Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries make their ESTA application.