Immigration

3 Reasons Why Republicans Should Get Behind Obama’s Executive Action

CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee

Immigration advocates react to President Obama's speech announcing deportation relief for millions of undocumented immigrants at the United We Dream headquarters on November 20, 2014.

After President Barack Obama announced an executive action to shield five million undocumented immigrants from deportation, Republicans condemned the administration and promised to use government funding to undo the initiative. And while deferred action has gotten most of the attention — and it is what GOP has focused on in terms of criticism — the administration’s initiative also includes various policies previously supported by Republicans.

1. Making it easier to retain high-skilled workers

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) slammed the president for going “all-in against the Constitution” last week, but he is a supporter of streamlining the process to obtain high-skilled visas. Last year, Goodlatte and Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) introduced the Supplying Knowledge Based Immigrants and Lifting Levels of STEM Visas Act (SKILLS Visa Act), which allocates “green cards to foreign graduates of American universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, [increases] H-1B visas, and [repeals] the employment-based per-country cap.” Their bill would among other things, include: 55,000 green cards a year for employers to petition for foreign graduates in STEM fields; increases the H-1B visa cap to 155,000 visas; provides up to 10,000 green cards for foreign entrepreneurs; and allocates an additional 25,000 green cards a year for the spouses and minor children of permanent residents.

“Although high-skilled immigrants are often in demand by American employers, many of them end up on the green-card waiting list for years,” Goodlatte said last year when he introduced the SKILLS Act. “Consequently, many of these foreign workers and students go back to their home countries and work for one of our global competitors.”

By comparison, President Obama’s executive action would also encourage the retention of highly-skilled foreigners, according to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memo. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson advised the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to “provide needed flexibility to workers with approved employment-based green card petitions.” The executive action would also allow some foreign students on F-1 visas to request 12 additional months of F-1 visa status and allow others with advanced degrees or exceptional ability to seek green cards without employer sponsorship. USCIS is also advised to grant parole status to entrepreneurs with investor financing.

2. Giving immigrants who came to the country as children an opportunity to remain in the United States

For a twinkle of a moment last year, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) supported legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the country by their parents, known as DREAMers. “These children were brought here of no accord of their own, and frankly they’re in a very difficult position,” he said, according to The Hill. “And I think many of our members believe that this issue needs to be addressed.” Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) also supported legal status for DREAMers, stating, “I personally believe if you came here as a child, that’s different. This is your country. You have no other place to go to.” And at one point, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Goodlatte (R-VA) drafted legislation that would grant a pathway to citizenship to DREAMers.

Taking cue from the president’s 2012 executive order known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, one component of the president’s latest executive action would expand the eligibility requirements to applicants above the current upper age limit of 31 to apply for the program, so long as they were brought to the country before the age of 16. This class of individuals would likely have qualified under the same kind of legislation that House Republican leadership supported.

3. Strengthening border security

Republicans have long emphasized the need for border security in any immigration fix. In an interview on the Hugh Hewitt Show in September, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said, “I would hope that the president would continue to follow the law, and begin to take steps that would better secure our border. It would create an environment where you could do immigration reform in a responsible way next year.”

Under this directive, DHS would implement a Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Strategy, which employs “DHS assets in a strategic and coordinated way to provide effective enforcement of our laws and interdict individuals seeking to illegally across land, sea, and air.” The memo asked immigration officials like the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency to coordinate with other agencies to set up joint task forces, aiming for ten objectives like minimizing the risk of terrorism; interdicting people and goods attempting to enter illegally between ports of entry; increasing situational awareness in the air, land, and sea border; disrupting transnational and criminal activities; and maximizing the number of travelers and value of imported goods that undergo screening before arriving at ports of entry.

What’s more, the executive action would allow DHS to ramp up resources to reduce the number of Central American kids crossing the border. DHS has been advised to increase the number of “Border Patrol agents, ICE personnel, criminal investigators, additional monitors, and [to work] with DOJ to reorder dockets in immigration courts, along with reforms in these courts.”