President Barack Obama is attempting yet another pivot away from Obamacare, delivering a speech about the need for immigration reform. Some critics have noted that Obama is diverting his energies to immigration–and to fundraising–on the eve of a crucial deadline for healthcare.gov, the federal Obamacare website that was meant to be fully operational by Nov. 30 if the policy had a chance of running on schedule next year. Yet there is more than a passing connection between the technical problems of Obamacare and immigration reform.
The nation’s legal immigration apparatus is in the midst of a major technological and bureaucratic mess. Wait times for I-130s–petitions for immediate relatives abroad to immigrate–have skyrocketed. Currently, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is handling applications filed in February 2013–i.e. nearly a year ago. The result is that thousands of people who are waiting to immigrate legally are still waiting–many in somewhat desperate circumstances, given that they have already expected to leave their countries of origin.
One of the main reasons for the delay is President Barack Obama’s “Dream Act” by fiat–his executive decision, likely unconstitutional, to stop enforcing certain federal immigration laws and to allow illegal aliens brought to the U.S. as children to apply for formal recognition of their status in the country. That action, as predicted, has proved a huge administrative burden for USCIS. Call centers move “Dreamers” to the front of the line, and legal immigrants–who have no powerful activist lobby representing their interests–are effectively demoted.
“Comprehensive” immigration reform is likely to overwhelm the federal bureaucracy even more–just as the sweeping insurance reforms of Obamacare have overwhelmed the civil service and the private contractors on the healthcare.gov project. The ongoing failure of the Obamacare website is a preview of what such large-scale expansions of federal authority will look like in other areas. Immigration reform, with all its complex new provisions, is likely to be worse–especially if the government cannot do the job for legal immigrants today.