Executive orders in immigration: President Obama to follow past presidents in executive action

A history of executive orders.

A history of executive orders.

President Obama, backed into a corner by Congress, must fix immigration with a pen and phone. The New York Times reports that the President, behind closed doors, is working on executive actions to overhaul immigration. An arduous task at best, the President has much work to do, meeting with lobbyists and members of interest groups and advisors. It is noteworthy that the executive branch of government may use executive orders to accomplish goals, despite the lack of an organized system for executive action. Congress, however, is by design, the branch of government best structured to conduct hearings, sort information and create laws. Without the meaningful assistance of Congress, President Obama is now expected to follow previous presidents who affected immigration using executive action.[i]

Everyone is affected by systemic problems in U.S. immigration but politics creates a permanent block to progress.

House Democrats want amnesty for individuals seeking asylum and immigration relief. House Republicans want southern border security and an efficient deportation process. With increased awareness of terror groups and rampant criminal action in the streets, many people living in violent and insecure countries are learning how they can come to the U.S., but they don’t know how to navigate the system to come legally, and follow in line with others making a run to U.S. borders. The immigration problems in the U.S. are not getting better and they will likely only grow worse. In the past, U.S. presidents, from both political parties, used executive orders to solve pressing immigration problems.

President Obama, like his predecessors, has executive order options he can use to overhaul immigration.

The way you hear House Republicans attacking and suing President Obama for signing executive orders in once instance, and criticizing him for failing to write immigration reform may be confusing to many. In fact, President Obama has only issued 185 executive orders as of August 5, 2014[ii]; According to Newsweek, his number, “Is Lower Than Any President in 130 Years.[iii]” In a recent report prepared by a political research organization, Executive Actions Speak Louder Than Words[iv], other recent presidents signed many more orders than President Obama:

  1. Barack Obama – 185 executive orders between 2009 and 2014;
  2. George W. Bush – 291 executive orders during two terms in office;
  3. Bill Clinton – 364 executive orders during two terms in office;
  4. George H.W. Bush – 166 executive orders during one term in office;
  5. Ronald Reagan – 381 executive orders during two terms in office;
  6. Jimmy Carter – 320 executive orders during one term in office.

Past presidents, including Reagan and both Bush presidents used executive action to address immigration.

Important executive orders have been used in recent history to address compelling civil rights problems. While so many people are quick to judge a current president’s record, it is easy to forget that this is not a new method to cure immigration problems in the U.S. Here is a summary of some notable executive actions in immigration, taken by recent U.S. presidents[v]:

  • 1987 – President Reagan eased immigration standards for 200,000 Nicaraguan exiles in the U.S.;
  • 1990 – President Bush Sr. protected Chinese students fearing persecution if sent back to China;
  • 1991 – President Bush Sr. delayed deportation for hundreds of Kuwaiti residents for four years;
  • 1992 – President Bush Sr. made repatriation “automatic” for Haitians coming to the U.S., including those with “potentially valid claim to refugee status”;
  • 1993 – President Clinton granted 18-month extension of the Deferred Enforcement Departure Program, giving 200,000 Salvadorans the right to legally live and work in the U.S.;
  • 1997 – President Clinton again used executive authority to give exemptions to up to 20,000 Haitians for an additional year, from strict new deportation rules;
  • 1998 – President Clinton temporarily suspended deportation to hurricane-ravaged countries;
  • 2001 – President Bush Jr. gave temporary protected status to up to 150,000 Salvadorans;
  • 2002 – President Bush Jr. expedited naturalization for green card holders enlisted in the military.

Obviously, the use of executive actions by U.S. presidents, in immigration, is a common practice. Despite House Representatives, who refuse to take meaningful action in immigration reform, the President can and apparently will sign one or a series of executive orders to address current immigration crises, including some 57,000 recent migrant individuals fleeing from Central America.

KiKi M. Mosley keeps pace with the immigration roller coaster on Capitol Hill because real people need immigration reform today.

Attorney KiKi M. Mosley is licensed to practice law by the State of Illinois and Louisiana. She is skilled and experienced in complex immigration law issues including DACA and related options for children arriving in the U.S. For more information about the law firm, please visit www.KiKisLaw.com, and do not forget to “Like” the firm on Facebook and “Follow” on Twitter. You can also review Attorney Mosley’s endorsements on her Avvo profile.

[i] New York Times, Behind Closed Doors, Obama Crafts Executive Actions, by Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Aug. 18, 2014.

[ii] Federal Register, Executive Orders website.

[iii] Newsweek, An Embarrassing Hole in Boehner’s Plan to Sue ‘King’ Obama, by Leah McGrath Goodman, Jun. 27, 2014.

[iv] American Bridge, Executive Actions Speak Louder Than Words, Aug. 8, 2014.

[v] See American Bridge report (HNiv) for specific article sources.