"America cannot wait forever for [the GOP] to act. That's why today, I am beginning a new effort to fix as much of the immigration system as I can on my own... If House Republicans are really concerned about me taking too many executive actions, the best solution to that is passing bills... pass a bill, solve a problem. Don't just say no on something that everybody agrees needs to be done. If we pass a bill, it will supplant whatever I've done administratively."
The above quote is the true essence of what Obama said yesterday: a harsh critique of House GOP refusal to act, and a promise of action in the yawning legislative void that Congress has become. This legislation can easily be overridden by Congress if they pass a law: Congressional legislation trumps executive orders, and Obama phrased this as a challenge and invitation to legislate.
The immigrant rights community has been able to push the issue of deportations to the White House, and get a very vague promise that Obama would "fix as much of the immigration system" as he could. Now every community with a stake in immigration will push and pull on the Administration to shape policy Obama's promise takes shape throughout the summer.
This scramble is because the President has broad authority to enforce the law of the US. For example, when the President said that he would be moving resources from the interior to the border, this is well within his constitutional authority as the head of US agencies like ICE and DHS.
This is as much practicality as constitutionality: someone needs to allocate resources. Excuse my rough math, but with around 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the country, roughly the same as the population of Ohio, we don't have the money or infrastructure to deport them all: working with a budget that's larger than the FBI, ATF and DEA combined, the most that domestic immigration enforcement has been able to deport in one year is around 400,000.
While this budget is already inflated beyond the priority the American public would want deportations to have, working at maximum capacity, even if no more immigrants came in and none of those deported returned, it would still take about 30 years to deport them all: a mass deportation is not a workable plan, and the deportations we see today are often of whomever is arbitrarily stopped by the wrong police officer for speeding, far removed from the security threats outlined in the Morton Memo and supported by the public.
An example of similar actions within presidential authority to allocate law enforcement resources to offer relief was Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This program offers deferred action on immigration cases as a temporary reprieve from the constant threat of deportation, as well as the right to apply for working papers and driver's licenses.
This was offered to those brought into the country as children, 30 years old or younger at the time of the policy and are currently in school or have graduated high school or have a GED, amongst several other requirements that narrow down the field. Right now, one of the first things advocates want to see are things like removing the DACA age cap or offering status to the parents of those on DACA or with citizen children.
Considering the amount of assimilation and roots it requires to raise a citizen child or one who qualifies for DACA, this is relatively low-hanging fruit, and most advocacy organizations will reach for much more. When Obama said he would be moving enforcement from the interior to the borders, this could mean the end of programs like Secure Communities (SCOMM), an internal enforcement law which advocacy organizations for LGBT groups, women and undocumented immigrants have been fighting against across the country.
Remember that executive orders can cut both ways, however, as FDR created Japanese internment camps during WWII via executive order. Obama has promised more border security, and we know that there are plenty of organizations that always consider the right amount of security to be "more."
While many on the right are already decrying our "imperial President" on his recent action, the truth of the matter is that he had to act: the rightward-leaning, security-heavy Gang of 8 legislation passed the Senate with a very healthy majority, and the GOP-controlled House refused to put any reform to a vote. Despite concessions being made on citizenship, offering to do it piecemeal and offering billions of dollars of border security, Speaker Boehner never put this or any other immigration reform legislation to a vote: there was no way to make it more right-wing friendly, it could not be done without offering a climate change denial or something else unrelated.
As the spotlight is dragged back to immigration yet again, people will be lining up to see how relief takes shape, and how the GOP will be reacting. I suspect the GOP will react much the way it did for DACA: it will split the party a bit between their anti-immigrant off-year base and the 2016 general electorate. Ultimately they'll have little to say, however, due to the fact that they had such a long time to legislate and opted not to.
It is difficult to read into the Administration's intentions and what pressures they are feeling the most, however, the next few months of advocacy will help shape what the White House does. Both sides know this: expect easily-debunked research from the Heritage Foundation, mostly-empty anti-immigrant rallies from Steve King (R-IA), hyperbolic, misleading statements from Ted Cruz (R-TX) and for things to get uglier in general: a vicious talking points tug-of-war is about to break out between sides that have been decrying an "Impereal President" for years already, and those who know him as the "Deporter-in-Chief." Bring a poncho.