Saturday, June 25, 2016

Whither Immigration Reform After A Split Supreme Court?

This past Thursday was, by any standard, an extraordinary news day.  It ended, of course, with the historic and misguided outcome in the British referendum on European Union membership, with the victory for the Leave side already inducing massive financial upheavals, as well as a massive amount of buyer's remorse by many who voted for Brexit.

I was inclined to write about Brexit, in fact, but I thought it over and decided that there's quite a bit to say about it, and maybe more than one post will be needed for me to get it done.  Plus, tomorrow is a getaway day for me.  I'm going to Chicago for a week to take part in the annual Conclave of the Theatre Historical Society of America, of which I am a board member and officer. So I won't have an opportunity to comment on Great Britain's self-manufactured crisis until after I get back, which will be just before the Fourth of July.  I can only imagine that, during that time, even more fodder for commentary will emerge.

With all of this in mind, I take this opportunity to talk about last Thursday's other major news story, which got somewhat buried by all of the Brexit hoopla:  the 4-4 split by the Supreme Court in their United States v. Texas ruling, which left in place a temporary injunction halting President Obama's expanded program of deferred prosecution for young undocumented immigrants and their parents.

As I said, the injunction is temporary and, as a consequence of the Court's decision, a trial on the merits of the case can now proceed.  Basically, this suit was brought by the Attorneys General of several states, alleging that the President's program was guilty of statutory overreach that would, in addition, burden their states with additional costs (e.g., the need to issue additional licenses). Maybe you like their logic, and maybe you don't.  Personally, I think it holds no water.  But, in any case, the trial can now go forward, the judge can once again rule for the plaintiffs, the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals can once again uphold that ruling, and the case can come back before the Supreme Court--which, by then, may have a full compliment of nine Justices.  And we in turn, by then, may have a new president who may or may not pursue the program or any other action to help 11 million effectively stateless souls.

And so, on immigration, the American beat goes on, with immigrants and their advocates being the ones taking the pounding.  Is there any lemonade to be made out of all these lemons?

Well, some.  The 4-4 split sets no precedent.  On the other hand, imagine what a nine-member Court might have done with an opinion written by the late Antonin Scalia.  No doubt the ability of Obama and future presidents to offer administrative relief to immigrants would have been reduced to rubble, while the concept of state standing to sue the Feds would have been stretched to maximum capacity not only for immigration, but perhaps for every conceivable issue on which the states might sue.

And, in any case, a program such as the one Obama has proposed is purely administrative in nature, and could easily be undone by any successor.  This leaves those of us who advocate for immigrants back to what used to be the future:  the need for a statutory solution in the form of comprehensive immigration reform.

How do we finally get to this promised land?  By doing what LGBT advocates have been doing for the past decade:  changing the minds of the American people about immigrants by changing the culture's perception of them, and especially how they came her in the first place.  Go beyond Op-Ed pieces and blogs (yes, including this one), and tell the stories of immigrants in songs, in films, in TV and Web series, on talk shows and in town meetings, in PTA meetings and day care centers.  Fill the everyday lives of people with stories about the "illegals," and they'll soon conclude that no human being is or should be illegal.

And then remind the American people that these human beings are being used as political props to prevent us from discussing and resolving a whole host of social issues, including climate change burning up states where many of these human beings live.

And insist on a fully-staffed Supreme Court, functioning as a truly independent branch of government, and not as a plaything of Mitch McConnell's.

Enough is enough.  Let's stop dividing ourselves to death, and remember that, before it was changed to "In God We Trust," our national motto was "E Pluribus Unum"--out of many, one.  Let's come together to write that thought into our immigration laws, so that no President needs to be sued for doing the right thing.

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