If there is one historical feat that most symbolizes the hopes, aspirations, and accomplishments of both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the American civil rights movement, it was his "I Have a Dream" speech given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
In those brief 17 minutes, Dr. King pushed America forward to a new era of tolerance and adherence to U.S. constitutional mandates on personal freedom and egalitarianism in calling for racial equality and an end to institutionalized discrimination still pervasive, even in the nation's capital where King spoke, a century after the Civil War.
Last week, President Obama had his own "Dream" moment when he issued an executive order (which is officially being called an "immigration directive") forbidding the deportation of an estimated 800,000 minors brought to this country illegally by their parents. These are roughly the same people targeted by the DREAM Act first proposed in 2001 by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch and Democratic Sen. Dick Durban.
The executive order issued by the president does not grant citizenship, or even a means to gain U.S. citizenship. Instead, it allows these children to stop looking over their shoulders for federal agents and to legally work and attend school in this country like other foreigners with work authorizations.
While not specifically defined as a constitutional power, presidents issue executive orders as part of their authority declared in Article II, the "Executive Power" section of the U.S. Constitution to carry out the federal government's conduct of policy and procedure and enforce the Constitution and federal laws.
Throughout U.S. history, presidents have pushed the discretionary envelope and used executive orders to unilaterally take actions -- and bypass Congress and its role in creating laws -- in order to address controversial human rights issues of their time.
For example, Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces; Dwight Eisenhower ordered the desegregation of schools in the Deep South, and Bill Clinton ordered the bombing of Kosovo -- all unilateral human rights measures that would have never passed in a divided Congress.
Some criticized Obama's executive order as overreaching, saying he unilaterally wrote a new immigration law. Others called it opportunist political pandering to Hispanic Americans who hold the key in swing states like Florida and Arizona.
Yet, the GOP was very subdued in its response. While a group of 20 GOP senators lead by Iowa's Chuck Grassley sent a letter to the president questioning his legal authority to issue the order, for the most part, the silence was deafening -- and reaffirmed the action.
Instead of outright stating that Obama was wrong, Mitt Romney deferred questions about Obama's actions, stating that securing the border was the first priority and that that the plight of DREAM kids would be considered as part of an overall review of immigration policy if he is elected.
In fact, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, with the support of some of his colleagues, was in the process of presenting yet another version of the DREAM act when Obama issued the order.
The various versions of the proposed DREAM acts did not pass Congress not because both sides of the aisle believed that these kids should be deported to countries. Instead, it was because dogmatic members of Congress played them like pawns in playing to extremist bases.
The truth is almost all in Washington, and Americans in general, realize these kids were going nowhere, that it would have been impossible to deport hundreds of thousands of them, and that such actions would have been inhuman and indecent.
Obama's DREAM executive order, like the historic ones issued by Truman and Eisenhower, will prove to be an important turning point in U.S. history in promoting true and honest action to resolve the significant social and economic problems surrounding the broken immigration system that Congress has failed to fix.
And like Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech, the DREAM executive order will go down in history as another monumental moment highlighting the endorsement of decency and American values in resolving the plight of those who lack true human rights protections in our American society.
Published in the Sun Sentinel on June 21, 2012
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