President Obama Executive Action on Immigration

More from this show

A roundtable discussion to talk about President Obama’s executive action on immigration, granting up to five million undocumented immigrants protection from deportation.

Jose Cardenas: Good evening, I'm Jose Cardenas. President Barack Obama gives millions of undocumented immigrants protection from deportation. Is the executive order even legal? Who is covered and who isn't? The president laid out his immigration plan to the nation, but the fight is far from over. All this coming up right now on "Horizonte."

Jose Cardenas: Thank you for joining us. President Obama issued an executive order last Thursday that temporarily protects millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation, disappoints others who aren't covered, and leaves republicans divided on what to do about it. We will discuss all of that in a moment. But, first, the day after his address President Obama launched an effort to win support for his immigration move in Las Vegas.

Video: And what we have to do is be honest that tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people is not realistic. That's not who we are. Most undocumented immigrants are good, decent people. They have been here for a long time.

Video: We will not stand idle as the president undermines the rule of law in our country and places lives at risk. We will listen to the American people, work with our members and work to protect the constitution of the United States.

Jose Cardenas: Joining us to talk about President Obama's executive action on immigration, Petra falcon, executive director for promisa Arizona. Rudy Espino, associate professor with Arizona state university school of politics and global studies. Danny Ortega, attorney and past chairman for the national council of La Raza. And Phil Austin, attorney and chairman for the east valley Hispanic chamber of commerce. Thank you all for joining us this evening. I want to begin with you, petra. Can you briefly outline what is covered and what's not? Who's covered and who's not by this executive order?

Petra Falcon: Some very, very grateful people so that the parents of U.S. citizen children, of whatever age, and lawful permanent residents who have been in the United States since January 1, of 2010, are eligible. And they will get a 3 year temporary halt to the potential deportations. The other piece that is also significant is that the president eliminated the age tap for dreamers, or previously DACA recipients, anyone who has been here since January 1, 2010, and, again, no age limit will be able to apply and get the other three year.

Jose Cardenas: And January 1, 2010 for DACA students is also a change right?

Petra Falcon: It is a change. It was 2007. It was June 2007. It is significant. Between those two constituencies, could be close to 4.5 million people.

Jose Cardenas: That leaves out the parents of DACA students.

Petra Falcon: It leaves out the undocumented parents of DACA recipients.

Jose Cardenas: Did it go far enough?

Danny Ortega: No, it didn't go far enough. You know, you look at the estimates that were made with regard to the poll that was made by the U.S. Senate, somewhere in the area of seven to eight million people that would be eligible for some sort of relief back then, some permanent legal residents. It didn't go far enough. My position on this right now is that it is a good step forward. 4 million, 5 million people is a lot of people. We're talking about reprieve from deportation for a significant number of people, and we're glad for them. They have at least three years to enjoy this status. As it relates to the others, enforcement is going to be ramped up. It is not like they're going to back off. It's our hope that this action taken by the president will get Congress to move on something that is more permanent and something that they believe is within the confines of the law or constitution. So, on one end we're happy for those who will benefit. On the other, we have to keep fighting for those we want to be covered. We never expected Jose under any plan that the Congress may have sent to the president that anymore than 8 million people would have benefited. Three, 4 million people that wouldn't have.

Jose Cardenas: I want to talk about the legality of it, and particularly get your thoughts on that. Rudy, a little bit on the politics. We will be talking a lot about politics tonight. Why did the president wait? I mean, statements that he did so because of fear of impact on the election. It turns out not to have been to his advantage to have waited. Was it a mistake?

Rudy Espino: He is not running again. I think it is a game-changer for the Democratic Party. Puts the ball in the republican court.

Jose Cardenas: Why not do it before the election?

Rudy Espino: You have to have republicans debate this. 2014, we already had the elections. Latino voters already have been disappointed with the Democratic Party. And now you have this change with respect to the Democratic Party's position on immigration reform. Now the Republican Party has to debate this. And you're going to see a lot of debate in the house, especially in the Senate, with potential presidential candidates within the republican primary fighting for this position. Because you have to consider what Latino voters want, especially in battleground states. Talking about Colorado, Nevada. It's no surprise that President Obama, when he pushed for this, he made a speech in Nevada. This is a battleground state and he is putting the ball in the republican's court.

Jose Cardenas: It seems that the waiting didn't seem to do the president much good in terms of the midterms. Do you think that is because Latinos didn't turn out to support him?

Petra Falcon: I think so. I think whether it is a democratic party or candidates that were out there that don't really have a Latino agenda, but by and large people kept hearing that they were going to get something for immigrants in this country and nothing ever happened. We have been waiting for years and no action. And especially because there has been a bill in the Senate for over a year and the House of Representatives never took that up. I agree with Rudy, republicans have a lot of talking to do. If you put a bill in front of the House of Representatives, it would pass right now. Right now they have to get their house in order to move forward.

Jose Cardenas: I don't think anybody can question your support for immigration reform, but you think it was a mistake for the president to issue the executive order.

Phil Austin: I'm concerned because our country, and that which differentiates our country as our constitutional government, the three branches of government and that fine balance that between those two, and I think when our history -- never been successful in ruling unilaterally or by -- on the -- knee jerk reaction. What our system provides for, which is envy of the world, is a process by which it could be long and it could be frustrating, but what lasts -- to the benefit of all, a process where we pass through our representatives, an idea, let it be debated, let it be argued about and let the other -- out of that to the other checks and balances and the executive and judicial so that out of that process we have developed laws that the envy of the world. To short-circuit it because of a frustration, which I share along with everyone else, undermines that system. A case in point creates concern about the unilateral action of the executive. For example, his action, he -- ordered the prohibition of deportation of certain immigrants. What is to stop the next president from ordering the deportation? The only thing that is going to stop them is a Congress or a court who he has short circuited by this action.

Jose Cardenas: It seems like you are talking a little of what David brooks from the "New York Times" was saying, that restoring confidence in government and this diminishes it. What about the legality of it? Do you think what the president did was unconstitutional?

Phil Austin: Well, I think -- this is -- his action has been compared to the action of previous republican presidents, through executive orders have affected the immigration. I argue in those cases what those presidents did was work off the basis of the IRCA law in 1986, and clarify very vague issues there. They use the executive order, executive order was founded upon the legislation that was passed by Congress, not interposed instead of action by Congress.

Jose Cardenas: That sounds like a reasonable distinction. Do you agree with that?

Danny Ortega: No, I don't agree. First of all, Jose, you know, you can have five constitutional scholars in this room, you know, who have no political ax to grind, and I think you will find they're going to agree that what the president did was constitutional. Most of the articles that are being written today about this when republicans and democrats aren't involved, is that within the constitution, that executive action isn't defined in a way that limits the president to do what this president did, and what other presidents have done when they have taken the executive action. Whose job is it but none other than the executive side of the aisle. And I respect Phil's argument about the three branches of government. But it is the executive branch of government that actually executes, you know, the issues that are confronting us with regard to immigration, department of homeland security and department of justice. And, so, clearly it's within his realm. I think it is ultimately going to be found constitutional. But we're talking about something bigger in terms of what we represent to the rest of the world and the democracy. What about the moral imperative that comes from the lack of the U.S. House of Representatives to act on a very important issue where millions and millions of lives are at stake and living in fear that their families are going to be separated and sent back to their home country after having lived here for so long. Children and -- look, we can get into the legalities of this fairly easy, but the moral imperative to do something and to get Congress to act and I think this is what is going to do it, Jose.

Jose Cardenas: You already touched a little bit on the politics of it. But what reason do we have to believe that this sets the stage anymore? You described it as setting the stage for the republicans to act. Than the Senate bill that was passed bipartisan and went to the house and just died there. Why do you think it will be any different this time around?

Rudy Espino: Presidential election, presidential cycle in 2016.

Jose Cardenas: Does that mean you don't expect anything to happen in the next two years?

Rudy Espino: I expect that anybody that wants to run for president within the republican primary has to take a position that further to the left than what I would call the team party caucus on immigration reform. If you want be courting that Latino vote in states that matter, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Florida, even North Carolina, you cannot be that far to the right. You cannot be opposing what President Obama did. And I appreciate what my colleagues brought up about the three branches of government. I tell my students it is important --

Jose Cardenas: Political science professor.

Rudy Espino: Pay attention to Congress and the executive branch, but we also have to now pay attention to what the judicial branch is going to say on this. You are going to see republican lawsuits. We have a lawsuit from our own sheriff here in Maricopa County against this executive action. What position are the courts going to take on this is I think another interesting thing to be paying attention to.

Jose Cardenas: Any concern that this has poisoned the well and because of it, something that might have happened in the next two years isn't going to happen?

Petra Falcon: Well, I do want to bring it back to the lackluster mid-term elections and the fact that people aren't voting because there is this parallelism in Congress right, there's nothing moving forward and I think what people do see with what the President did was two things; progress and something dealing with people. Progress in the sense that we're moving forward. We can't move backwards. I don't know that people want to deport 11 million people. With four to 5 million people getting some kind of relief, their lives are moving forward. People are not going to want to reverse that. This is ultimately what you were saying, Danny, about people, people who have contributing to this country. We're dealing with families that are mixed status families that already have roots here. The time that these people, these families have been here, is 12 years. They have already been here over a decade. This is about our being a nation of immigrants, being a nation of values and we have to move forward. We've been stuck for too long and that is what I think with politics, get back to what is important to people.

Danny Ortega: I think what is important here, once you give a benefit, it's hard to take it back. I think when we were in the limbo that we were in, national election, I promise immigration reform, okay. That is not going to be it. The issue is going to be what are you going to do with the executive order that President Obama signed on deferred action? Are republicans going to be saying I'm going to make sure that everyone of those people who registered for that program get deported? Absolutely not. Absolutely not. It would be a disaster for the Republican Party. I think the president has really just, you know, check mate on that issue.

Jose Cardenas: Why didn't he do this before the midterm election?

Danny Ortega: I think that more than anything else it was the politics of the Democratic Party and democratic candidates who believed they were going to be affected by it. After the fact they will look at it and say it really didn't affect you in the way you thought it did. Bottom line, turnout was determined by the amount of money that was spent in every state, particularly by the right and particularly by those who supported republican candidates. And, so, though I disagreed with the president in holding off for the same reasons that I talked about earlier from a practical political standpoint, too much pressure by his own party and the candidates of the Democratic Party to do that and he thought he should wait because he didn't want to turn his party and his people against him by doing it before --

Jose Cardenas: Would it have --

Danny Ortega: It wouldn't have made a difference to the election, but it would have made a difference to the kind of acceptance that it got by the side -- his base as opposed to before.

Jose Cardenas: Phil.

Phil Austin: Yeah, I think we have to go back to the need for creditability in the system and the process. We understand that when legislation or when laws are passed that there is no general consensus or unanimity about it. There is always those who object or oppose. What we have here is a system that says yeah, we're going to have some differences. As long as those ideas are debated, are put out into the public, and voted by our representatives, they have validity and we can move on even though we disagree. His actions short-circuit that, and cause the kind of rise and concern about the process. He, himself, admitted that when he -- earlier indicated that he wouldn't act as a dictator or an emperor --

Petra Falcon: Executive order.

Phil Austin: So, he realized there was some concern about that himself and now he's changed.

Jose Cardenas: On the point about debate, though, speaker Boehner hasn't allowed -- didn't allow the Senate bill to come for a straight up or down vote. Isn't that also inconsistent with the principles?

Phil Austin: Let's go back to - I was a head of the civil rights division and involved in civil rights laws. Civil rights laws were initiated or introduced in the '50s. And but they didn't pass, civil rights act didn't pass until 1964 after a lot of debate and after a lot of change, the country had to change. You know, to short-circuit it without that kind of debate, and I am here probably because I was involved in a rally that was supported across the country by hundreds of conservative executives who have called upon the republican Congress to act saying we must act and that kind of pressure, I think, will make, I think, immigration law in the near future a reality. But the action of the president, in my opinion, has impeded that. Will it stop it? I don't think so because there is such a, I think, a widespread support for it, growing even in republican circles. Don't have to remind everybody that the two leaders in the Senate, for the Senate version of the bills were republicans Flake and McCain so there is a large constituency in the Republican Party who wants the change, but short-circuiting it creates some obstacles. Overwhelming obstacles, hope not. We will push for it. Through the Congress, and to get the President and for sure then we'll have the judiciary branches supported.

Jose Cardenas: Speaking of senator Flake, he has proposed what some see as one response republicans can make versus proposals to simply defund system that would allow the implementation of the executive order. Senator Flake is talking about sending up a series of immigration bills. The first one being ones that the president has otherwise indicated aren't that palatable to him. What do you think of that strategy?

Rudy Espino: I don't think it will gain much traction. Congress controls the power of the purse. I don't see Congress defunding any of the programs that they're threatening to cut. Secondly, with respect to this piecemeal approach, President Obama, democrats are opposed to it. And I do not see that getting any traction for that reason. Yes, democrats lost control of the Senate. But, you know, they still have the filibuster. Filibuster still exists and for democrats that care about this issue, they can threaten the filibuster and shut that down right now and that is what I see probably taking place in the Senate.

Jose Cardenas: Is defunding an empty threat?

Danny Ortega: Very empty threat. The bottom line is that the country is angry enough at Congress. Let's not talk about democrats or republicans, I think angry enough at Congress about what happened last tight that I think they got the message clear. I mean, some prominent republican leaders are saying no, that that is not an option. The tea party candidates, the people who are to the extreme right clearly their voices are being heard on defunding -- I just don't think it is realistic. I think to take the issue of just immigration to defund the government I think it would be dangerous to the Republican Party.

Jose Cardenas: And as Phil indicated, a lot of business groups have been strong in their support of immigration reform. They expressed concern. One of the concerns expressed by some of them is that it creates even more ambiguity. What do you do with the employee you have had for many years who comes forward and says I want to get straight with the law. I have been working under an assumed identity.

Petra Falcon: That is going to be part of the work that a community groups and legal community and people who are going to be impacted need to really just work together because part of -- part of the requisite is that you do a background check. Everything is going to come out. And you do have to come forward and do your taxes. So that means that there will be a lot of tax preparation events going on in the community. A lot of partnering up --

Danny Ortega: Five years, right?

Petra Falcon: Five years, five years of taxes. But that -- two years ago when DACA was also implemented, we did a lot of work in the community to be sure that the young people were doing the applications correctly. One of the concerns in the legal community that the correct people are applying and that -- so there is going to be a lot of work. In Arizona, there might be up to 200,000 people who will fall under both of these two measures.

Jose Cardenas: There have been problems in the past with people, for example -- who really aren't lawyers in Arizona, taking advantage of people thinking that they're like those in Latin America where they can practice law, any concerns from anybody about people taking advantage of those who want to get this DACA status --

Phil Austin: I do, because I think part of again, the process of such a step as it was taken, is the lack of clarification that occurs during the debate. And, yes, in the past, we have seen these actions as well as who qualifies and who is not is a question, again, that lay people have dealt with, lawyers cannot even answer those questions right now. Part of the beauty of the process, of going through the process, our representatives debate and argue is that clarification occurs that allows and input from businesses affected, from community groups affected, all input the process and what comes out of there is a process that's refined because of the debate.

Jose Cardenas: Danny, quickly, I want to move on to another topic.

Danny Ortega: Most important thing is we have to inform or educate the community about those eligible to try to avoid some of the fraud. The concerns not only go for fraud, people taking money from people who don't qualify, but also even if you get lawyers who get into this business because they see the money, there are those who are incompetent and who have never done this before. So, I think that we have to be concerned on two fronts and we have to take the onus to educate the people about the potential for fraud and who is committing it.

Jose Cardenas: Let's talk about the impact in Arizona. We got a decision this week from the 9th circuit court of appeals, basically denying the request of the review of the order by the 9th circuit that said the governor has to allow drivers licenses for the DACA kids. Presumably the state even with its new governor is going to continue to fight that battle. Do we expect any immediate impact in Arizona?

Danny Ortega: First of all, I think governor Ducey is going to stay true to his position in the campaign that he supported governor Brewer's position not issuing driver's licenses to DACA recipients, who were found eligible. You know, there is a process here where we have the court of appeals saying you have to issue driver's licenses to DACA. I think it follows consistently that we must also issue to the parents of U.S. citizen children who are approved under this new deferred action program, but I think the politics is going to be front and center because the likelihood is that the governor's office, state of Arizona, we're going to appeal the decision from the court of appeals and leave things in limbo and you are going to have governor Ducey coming forward and saying I made a promise. I said I supported what governor Brewer did and I will follow through on that.

Jose Cardenas: Only a minute left. Does this make it harder for Ducey to take a different course, the fact that the president has now issued an order that expands the number of people who might otherwise be eligible for drivers' licenses?

Rudy Espino: I think it does, not only for Ducey but for other republican governors out there. There is a lot of clarification that is going to be needed, decided by the judicial branch. District court, appellate court, might go all of the way to the Supreme Court. But I disagree with my colleague, Phil, a little bit.

Jose Cardenas: Have to make it short. About 20 seconds.

Rudy Espino: In terms of the debate leading to clarification, there is a lot of things that Congress gives us that is very unclear, and this is where I do think the judicial branch is going to have to step in.

Jose Cardenas: On that note of lack of clarity, we will end the discussion. You have been great and very clear in your positions and thank you for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about that.

Phil Austin: Thank you.

Petra Falcon:Executive Director, Promisa Arizona; Rudy Espino:Assistant Professor, School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University; Daniel Ortega:Attorney, Ortega Law Firm; Phillip Austin:Attorney and Chairman, Law Office of Phillip A. Austin and East Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce;

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

An armed forces bugler playing the trumpet in front of the United States Capitol building.
airs May 26

National Memorial Day Concert 2024

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 26

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

Rachel Khong
May 29

Join us for PBS Books Readers Club!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: