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What's Next In The Political Fight Over Immigration

RAY SUAREZ, HOST:

We wanted to spend a few minutes looking at a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that may change the futures of more than 4 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Back on June 22, the United States Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4, leaving in place a lower court decision to block President Obama's order temporarily protecting some undocumented parents and family members of American citizens from deportation while giving them access to work permits under a work program called the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents - DAPA.

During a time of heated debate and immigration policy playing a big role in the presidential election, what does this ruling change for people who might face deportation? Joining us now to talk about more of this here in Washington is Mark Krikorian, who runs the Center for Immigration Studies, which calls for tighter restrictions on immigration, and Ali Noorani. He runs the National Immigration Forum, which advocates for immigrant rights. Noorani joins us from Chicago member station WBEZ.

Great to have you both. First, even though it's been more than a week, let's start with getting both your reactions to the Supreme Court ruling. Mark?

MARK KRIKORIAN: Well, the ruling actually doesn't change anything, so that the illegal immigrants who would have benefited - nobody's really sure, but maybe 3 or 4 million people who have U.S.-born kids - are already explicitly exempted from deportation by the president's other policies. And what this program, which was blocked, would have done - would have given them work permits, Social Security numbers, EITC welfare, driver's licenses at the state level. So it would've been a provision of an actual benefit so that they don't get the benefit, but they don't actually change in their current status.

And it's important to note that the Supreme Court didn't rule - and neither did, really, the lower court - on the substance of the program - in other words, whether the president is allowed to do this under the Constitution. All they did was say that the hold on the program, the injunction that froze it, has to stay in place until there's a full litigation, a full airing of the issues at the lower court level.

SUAREZ: Ali?

ALI NOORANI: Well, from our perspective, this decision and really keeping this injunction in place is a real travesty from a law enforcement perspective and from an economic perspective. Chiefs and sheriffs across the country will have to continue to stretch valuable law enforcement resources to pull over, detain undocumented immigrants who they happen to run across, and for very, very minor reasons. And as a result, those police officers are going to be taking their time and resources away from really pursuing the people who are here to do us harm.

And then from an economic perspective, employers across the country were looking to this particular program to finally stabilize their workforce so that employers and employees alike are all competing for the same job at the same wage. So yes, Mark is correct. The status quo continues, which means that our valuable law enforcement resources are stretched thin and unscrupulous employers continue to benefit from a broken immigration system.

SUAREZ: Ali Noorani, from the beginning everyone understood that this action or series of actions had an end date. That is, it sunsetted with the end of the Obama administration. Has this effectively moved into the inbox of the next president of United States?

NOORANI: I think this issue - if it wasn't already driving the November election, it is certainly above the fold now. I think that the program, yes, has been deferred to the next administration. But what is happening now is that Latino, Asian and their allied voters are all looking to the candidates and asking them the question of OK, where are you on immigration policy? And how are you going to fix this system?

KRIKORIAN: Yeah. I mean, Ali is basically right that now it's a political question, which frankly is where it should've been all along. I mean, the president basically asserted that he had the unilateral authority to legalize these people, because that's really what is. It's not a full - they don't get green cards. Under the program, they would not have gotten green cards. But they would've gotten basically what amounts to green card light or a diet green card, if you will.

And it's not really temporary. It's only temporary on paper. Once you legalize 3 or 4 million people and give them work permits and Social Security numbers and all the rest of it, that's really not something you can undo. And that's what the lower courts said, that this is the kind of thing that if it's found to be unconstitutional or illegal for some other reason - the president's action is illegal - it's very difficult to undo it. And therefore, they shouldn't go forward with it until those questions are decided.

SUAREZ: Mark Krikorian, going ahead, just as we have seven months left in the Obama administration, we've got about or four or five months left in the election season. Does this clarify this issue going ahead for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?

KRIKORIAN: Yeah, I think it clearly does clarify it because long before the Supreme Court gets another bite at the apple of this case the election, as you suggest, is going to, to some degree, shape the outcome. So first of all, if Donald Trump is elected then he'll simply cancel the memos and there won't be any program. If Hillary Clinton is elected, she has already promised to extend this kind of unilateral amnesty without Congress' permission to reach basically all illegal immigrants. So in a sense, I mean, this really does raise the stakes within the immigration context of this election.

SUAREZ: Ali?

NOORANI: I think that the outcome of this election will completely shape the outcome of immigration policy. I think that the choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton could not be more clear. And I think that if Hillary Clinton wins, you will see a tidal wave of support and frankly pressure on Congress, Republicans and Democrat, to move forward with a solution. And if Donald Trump wins, you're going to see the mass deportation of 11 million people. And he said it - the development and the deployment of a deportation force. In politics, clear choices are good. You just have to pick a side.

SUAREZ: That's Ali Noorani. He runs the National Immigration Forum, which advocates for immigrant rights. He joined us from Chicago member station WBEZ. And here with me in Washington Mark Krikorian, who runs the Center for Immigration Studies, which calls for tighter restrictions on immigration. Thanks a lot, gents.

KRIKORIAN: OK.

NOORANI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.