1. Will the President use his “Either Congress acts, or I will” line about immigration ?
The truth is that the President has exercised considerable executive discretion on immigration for 5 years, he is just doing so poorly. DACA is the one bright spot in an otherwise dismal record (notwithstanding very legitimate critiques about the fact that it bifurcated the undocumented community into “deserving”/ “undeserving,” criminal/non-criminal groups). More frequently, the President used his discretion to increase suffering rather than alleviate it (Eg, the “secure communities” deportation quota program—which was not mandated by law, but created through discretionary executive action–spread Arizonification nation-wide).
The President cannot argue that he doesn’t have the power to use discretion because he’s already demonstrated that it’s possible with the implementation of DACA. Now that the program is more than a year old, why won’t he expand it for workers, particularly for those who would qualify under the bi-partisan Senate bill that passed last year? DACA (a) helped him get elected, (b) relieved needless suffering, and (c) propelled immigration reform back onto the national agenda. So what is keeping him from doing more? Seriously.
3. How Will the President Address His Credibility Gap with Immigrant Communities?
For many people, the President’s actions have spoken more loudly than his words. Among the immigrant community, he’s widely seen as the Deporter-in-Chief instead of a Champion for Immigration Reform. What will he do beyond repeating the same short reference in his speech to regain immigrants’ confidence and close his widening credibility gap on the issue?
4. Does the President Want Immigration as an “Issue” or an “Accomplishment”?
Immigrants are used to being treated like a political football by politicians on both sides of the aisle. It is true that many nativist Republicans have made a repugnant decision to scapegoat immigrants for short-term electoral gain. But many Democrats have seen the issue as a convenient win-win: If they pass something, they claim credit. If they don’t, they blame Republicans. The President said he was going to Washington to change the way things work there. Will he use all the tools at his disposal to win real change, or will he seek advantage to win elections?
If we give the President the benefit of the doubt, he’d have us believe that the ramped-up enforcement and deportations of the past five years were a ‘down-payment’ for immigration reform. But this enforcement-first gamble has failed. Criminalizing immigrant communities has become a barrier to legalizing them. Instead of pushing forward reform, it hurts public safety, breaks apart families, and incentivizes racial discrimination and rights violations. In March, the President is expected to reach the milestone of 2 million deportations.