Contributed by Amber L. Blasingame, Associate Attorney, Colorado Springs
On the Saturday following President Obama’s announcement, Saturday Night Live, in all its comedic glory, presented an opening skit satirizing the President’s Immigration Accountability Executive Order. The skit parodies the School House Rock public service announcement on how a bill becomes a law (“I’m just a Bill, yes, I’m only a Bill; And I’m sitting here on top of Capitol Hill”). Before the weekend was up, the skit was posted all over social media by individuals on both sides of the immigration debate. While the skit is certainly entertaining, it expresses misinformation about the President’s executive order announced on November 20, 2014.
In the skit, President Obama throws the hapless Bill down the stairs of the capitol in favor of his Executive Order. Conversely, in the President’s address on November 20, 2014, he was clear that his executive action was not intended to replace any act of Congress. In fact, he appealed to Congress to pass an immigration bill for his signature. The executive actions are only meant as a stop gap measure until Congress and the President can agree on the best way to reform our broken immigration system. The President can only issue an executive order within the parameters and limitations of the existing laws passed by Congress. Nevertheless, those existing, immigration laws desperately need to be clarified and updated to meet the needs of our country in the Twenty-First Century. The president’s actions do not fix our broken system. The order only provides temporary relief in anticipation of a more permanent solution from Congress. We still need Congress to pass a bill or bills to reform immigration.
When presenting the Executive Order in the skit, the President declares that the Executive Order is going to give “legal status” to millions of “illegal immigrants.” The misnomer of “illegal immigrants” aside, the Executive Order does not offer “legal status” to undocumented immigrants. The President’s order offers a contract with undocumented immigrants that, if accepted and maintained, would protect applicants from deportation (“removal”) temporarily. This is not a “status” in the legal sense; at best it may be considered a “benefit” since applicants may also qualify for employment authorization or, more apt, temporary “relief” from deportation. The contract does not implement a “path to citizenship” or even “legalization.” The benefit of relief is precarious and may be breached by either party at any given point in time. If the executive order is not extended or is rescinded, then the contract is terminated. If a recipient violates any of the terms of her application, then the contract is breached and the applicant could be subject to removal proceedings. The Immigration Accountability Executive Order in no way grants legal status to any undocumented immigrant.
Finally, the Executive Order, smoking his stogie, expressed surprise to hear that he would be doing something more than creating a national park or holiday. Presidents throughout the centuries have used executive orders for far more than establishing national parks or holidays, including immigration relief to millions of undocumented immigrants. The predecessor of the executive order was the presidential proclamation, two of which comprised President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. More recently, President George W. Bush signed into existence more than 290 Executive Orders during his two terms in office. He too was called a king or a tyrant on many occasions when he unsheathed his mighty pen to sign yet another executive order. Among those executive orders, in 2003, was one that was passed with little fanfare, but it permitted a do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-$200 path to citizenship to any “nonimmigrant” who enlisted in the military during the conflicts with Afghanistan and Iraq. Of course very few people are likely to protest such action for those who are lawfully in the country and who want to serve their adopted country and the action only extended to a few thousand foreign nationals who could qualify for the MAVNI program (Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest). However, the order provided far more than just a contract to recipients and even more than just legal status, but actual citizenship – the right to vote, the right to run for office, the right to the protection of the United States. President Reagan signed 381 Executive Orders during his time in office, more than any president since President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who signed a whopping 3,721 Executive Orders before retiring from office. President Reagan, among his order, signed an executive order that offered relief to thousands if not millions of undocumented immigrants in the wake of Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 as a stop gap measure. The same executive order was extended by President George H. W. Bush. President Obama’s actions are in good company, and it should have been of no surprise to the Executive Order just how much he could do.
So, by all means enjoy the SNL skit for what it is – entertainment. However, just know that it is not a reliable source of information on the matter of immigration reform or the recent executive actions. And we still “hope and pray” that immigration reform will become a law, “but today [it is] still just a bill.”
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