Concerned that immigration reform could fall off Obama’s agenda with international crises and economic woes looming, the influential liberal magazine The Atlantic is now floating what they refer to as ‘the nuclear option’; the idea that President Obama could unilaterally move to end deportations of millions of illegal immigrants currently in the United States.
It’s not that unthinkable, given the Obama administration’s previous executive branch policy fiats that overrode Congress and changed the rules on asylum and granted the so-called “Dreamer” class of illegal immigrants a deferred status.
As Atlantic author Molly Ball explains it:
The option commonly referred to by immigration reformers as “Plan B” would see the president take executive action to prevent undocumented immigrants from being deported — along the lines of the deferred-action program the administration created for “Dreamers” last year. It wouldn’t be a panacea, and it wouldn’t give them citizenship. But such an action could at least spare some from the constant threat of deportation. And perhaps just as important, it could exact major political revenge on Republicans, galvanizing the Hispanic electorate against them and further hurting their image with the fastest-growing segment of voters.
The idea gained some prominence earlier this month, when Republican Senator Marco Rubio mentioned it in a talk-radio interview: “I believe that this president will be tempted, if nothing happens in Congress, to issue an executive order as he did for the Dream Act kids a year ago, where he basically legalizes 11 million people by the sign of a pen,” Rubio said.
Although the comprehensive immigration reform advocates are maintaining a united front, behind the scenes activists have been pushing Obama towards the nuclear option for months. Some advocates of comprehensive immigration reform actually prefer the idea of unilateral action by President Obama to the legislation being considered now. As Fawn Johnson writes in the National Journal:
The idea behind the “other track” is to freeze the current undocumented population in place through an administrative order, give them work permits, and hope for a better deal under the next president, with the hope that he or she is a Democrat. It’s a significant gamble, but some advocates–particularly those outside of the Washington legislative bartering system–argue that it’s better than what they stand to see under the legislation being discussed now.
The fact that the idea is being given a public push at this juncture by sources like The Atlantic and The Washington Post is telling; the nuclear option is on the table. Whether it’s a bluff to move Republicans towards an immigration deal or a real threat remains to be seen.