Michigan experts deem immigration order beneficial, but constitutionality questioned


 By Cynthia Price

Legal News
The controversy over whether President Obama had the constitutional right to issue recent executive orders on immigration rages on, but academics and policy experts in Michigan say that what the orders call for will be beneficial to the state and the nation.

The Nov. 20 executive orders offer the opportunity for some of the undocumented to register with the government, undergo a background check, and begin paying taxes. In return they can stay in the U.S. for a temporary period without fear of being deported. The orders also expand the terms of eligibility for the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), including allowing people with birthdates before June 15, 1981, to apply, and create “Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents,” which will allow those parents to request three-year employment authorization. They streamline the immigrant visa program administratively, increase flexibility in highly-skilled workers’ visas and allow for entry of foreign entrepreneurs who meet job creation and other criteria, as well as promoting citizenship education and naturalization.

It is estimated the orders will affect approximately five million immigrants.

Other key provisions mandate that immigration enforcement actions prioritize suspected terrorists and violent criminals and de-emphasize law-abiding family members, and strengthen immigration options for victims of human trafficking and other crimes.

The orders also continue the current policy of cracking down on illegal immigration at the border through shifting deportation resources and working on reducing the backlog at immigration courts. As the White House explains, the Obama Administration has increased both agents and other types of surveillance at the Southwest border, more than doubling the numbers since he took office in 2008, and has cut all illegal border crossings by more than half., resulting in a standstill in  the undocumented population, whereas that population increase from 3.5 million to 11 million between 1990 and 2007.

Details can be found on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, www.uscis.gov/immigrationaction#1.
Last week, three experts joined the coalition group Michigan United, which advocates for immigration reform among other issues, to extol the virtues and benefits of the new policy.

Dr. Ruben Martinez, whose academic focus area is sociology, is the head of the Julian Samora Research Institute at Michigan State University, which is “committed to the generation, transmission, and application of knowledge to serve the needs of Latino communities in the Midwest.”

Dr. Martinez has spent a portion of his recent career working on migrant workers, and he commented on the stability the new policies supply. “Employers won’t have to face finding out, without notice, that some of their employees have been detained. This is particularly problematic in agriculture; producers are always very concerned about having a reliable labor force.”

He noted that migrant workers who rely on seasonal work provided by moving from state to state have responded to risks of deportation by not traveling as much, which may keep them from coming to Michigan. “The average number of years a person stays in the migrant stream is about 14, so these days it’s not a lifelong career,” he said. “What’s happened is that with the current enforcement policies, there has been a chilly climate where workers have not been willing to travel. So the change should be beneficial to Michigan in that way too.”

He also noted that measures to keep immigrant families together will alleviate the massive stress felt by parents and children alike, eliminating negative consequences society-wide.

“Providing work authorization to undocumented immigrant workers helps both the U.S. and the Michigan economy in a whole variety of ways — it provides economic stimulus and increases productivity,
output, consumer buying power, tax revenues and the labor participation rate,” said Thomas Weisskopf, a retired University of Michigan economist as well as former head of the U of M Residential College.
“It strengthens the Social Security and Medicare systems, since the workers’ contributions will offset the losses from the aging population. The revenues outweigh any additional expenditures on the workers.”

Weisskopf stressed that employing immigrant workers really does not hurt U.S.-born employees. “Immigrant workers largely complement rather than substitute for them; they work in different areas and in different fields and are rarely in competition for the same jobs,” he said, referring to the work of David Card of the University of California Berkeley. In his Jan. 2005 paper, “Is the New Immigration Really so Bad?”, Card concludes: “Overall, evidence that immigrants have harmed the opportunities of less educated natives is scant.”

Center for American Progress?(CAP) Policy Analyst Patrick Oakford put some numbers to the expected revenues. He said the current annual contribution from undocumented workers is about $126 million in Michigan, $12 billion nationally. CAP research shows that the increased taxes to the Michigan economy will amount to approximately $49.3 million over five years, with the national contribution $25.6  billion.

Oakford also mentioned that pursuing lawsuits against the president, as have 24 states including Michigan,  to prevent implementation of the executive actions wastes taxpayer money. But the lawsuit demonstrates that controversy over whether the president has overreached his branch’s authority continues.

Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School professor Paul Carrier, until recently at the Grand Rapids campus, notes, “All Presidents have exercised discretion to supplement laws by Executive Order. sometimes... because a law is not clear... Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized certain powers in the head of state that were inherited from the legal system existing before the Constitution was enacted, so that there would be one voice to address other heads of state... While immigration laws and policies are primarily domestic, such laws may involve international affairs and the one-voice authority of our head of state.”

Carrier, though not an authority on immigration, said he suspects that there is enough of that head of state component and enough “holes” in the immigration law that the orders are likely not unconstitutional.

However, even if they are, Congress can override them by addressing immigration reform; some pundits say encouraging that is one of President Obama’s primary purposes. The White House explanation notes that “only Congress can finish the job.”

The White House also mentions that every president since Dwight Eisenhower has issued at least one executive order on immigration, but critics contend that the others were much less broad. They also hold that the actions were politically motivated, courting the growing Hispanic vote, but acknowledge that Republicans must incorporate such political considerations into their policy as well.