Jeremy Beck's picture


  by  Jeremy Beck

The New York Times' headline says "House Votes to Revoke Legal Protections for Millions of Immigrants." There is no down-the-middle interpretation to be found here. The headline tells the reader what they are supposed to feel before they read the story.

If a reader does decide to read the story, the first paragraph by Jeremy W. Peters (who did not write the headline) offers a little clarification:"The House voted on Wednesday to gut major provisions of President Obama’s immigration policy, approving legislation that would revoke legal protections for millions of unauthorized immigrants, including children, and put them at risk of deportation."

To be clear (since the Times isn't) there is no law "protecting" people in the country illegally from being "at risk of deportation," at least none that the House voted to revoke. Federal law provides that any alien who is present in the U.S. in violation of the law is deportable and “shall be removed” subject to an order (See generally 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(1)(A) and (B); INA § 237(a)(1)(A) and (B)). President Obama's executive amnesties protect illegal aliens from the laws passed by Congress (they don't offer anything to immigrants as the headline misleads readers to believe) and give them work permits to apply for any job in the U.S. Those executive actions are what the House voted to revoke.

The language the Times uses is the language of politicians and activists who support the executive actions. Why not attribute it to them? They have a right to make their case, as do those who support the equal application of immigration law to all people.

The Times might have allowed both sides to argue their case for "protections." Senator Jeff Sessions argued this week that President Obama's recent executive action "grants five million illegal immigrants work permits, Social Security, Medicare, and free tax credits -- taking jobs and benefits directly from struggling American workers. U.S. citizens have been stripped of their protections they are entitled to under law."

Senator Sessions is not quoted in the Times piece. Nor does Peters make any mention of work permits.

About those missing "work permit" mentions

The Times is not the only news source following the White House's lead in excluding any mention of work permits from their descriptions of executive amnesties. Here is a limited selection of stories from this week that use similarly-selective descriptions:

The Hill:

House Republicans will deliver their opening salvo ahead of a Feb. 27 deadline to respond to President Obama's executive action in November to shield up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation....


House Republicans unveiled a bill last week that funds the Homeland Security Department through September -- with all other federal agencies -- while also rolling back the executive action Obama took last year to shield the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens from deportation


Meanwhile, the White House issued a veto threat of Republicans' funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security. GOP members want to include amendments aimed at preventing funds for Obama's upcoming immigration executive action and measures limiting deportations.


The House GOP package, expected to be voted on Wednesday, would stop more than Obama’s most recent immigration executive actions temporarily delaying deportations for up to five million undocumented immigrants, including parents of U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident children for at least five years, by rolling back 2011 memos that expanded what immigration officials should consider in deferring deportations.


Republican lawmakers leaving a closed-door strategy meeting on Tuesday said the House would seek to pass amendments to the core funding bill to deny money to implement Obama's November executive order lifting the threat of deportation to millions of undocumented immigrants.

Associated Press:

The 237-190 roll call Wednesday by which the House agreed to a measure that would undo executive actions that President Barack Obama announced in November to provide temporary deportation relief to some 4 million immigrants in the country illegally.

National Journal:

They include a proposal to defund Obama's most recent executive action, which deferred deportations for unauthorized parents of children who are U.S. citizens or green-card holders, and one to stop a 2012 program deferring removals of undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States before the age of 16.

Los Angeles Times:

Now, with Republicans in control of Congress for the first time in eight years, the debate is over how to respond to Obama's executive action shielding up to 5 million immigrants in the country illegally from deportation. Republicans agree the program should be stopped but differ sharply on tactics.

Work permits for tourists who never leave?

Last week, I looked at Karina Rodriguez's claim that she and her husband deserve President Obama's work permit amnesty because they "came here to work." This week, Jeremy Peter's colleague Julia Preston has a feature on Arturo Hernández García who makes a similar claim.

García came to the U.S. 15 years ago as a tourist and never left. He and his wife are citizens of Mexico but his father-in-law is a U.S. citizen. They applied for green cards through him but the waiting list is long for extended family members so they have been waiting it out in the U.S. They have one daughter who was born in Mexico and another who was born in the U.S., an American citizen. He works in construction, owns his own business and has six employees.

Preston writes: "Except for his deportation order, Mr. Hernández García has all the qualifications for a work permit under Mr. Obama’s new program" and her story illuminates the argument for a work-permit amnesty: García is a good guy, aren't there higher priorities for deportation?

But García's story also raises questions that Preston doesn't ask:

  • There are about 45 million nonimmigrant admissions to the U.S. every year who are "temporary visitors for pleasure" like Garcia. In order to get in, the foreign national must establish that the visit will be temporary and agree to depart at the end of the authorized stay. What would granting García a work permit mean for the credibility of our nonimmigrant admission process?
  • How was García able to overstay his tourist visa by 15 years and what does that say about the state of interior enforcement?
  • What is the long-term implication of deporting visa overstays who get caught early, but issuing work permits to those who avoid detection for years?
  • What role did having a U.S. citizen as a member of his extended family play in García's decision to overstay his visa and what does that tell us about the connection between chain migration and illegal immigration?
  • How was García able to start his own business and hire employees when he himself was not authorized to work in the United States? What does this tell us about the state of workplace enforcement?
  • How has his own experience effected García's willingness to follow U.S. law when it comes to hiring unauthorized workers?

Ultimately, García's story brings me back to the question of limits: do we have a limited immigration system or not? Our laws say "we do" but an executive enforcement policy of "felons, not families," says "we don't."

That's the story on executive action that I'm waiting to see.

So what do you do with the 11 million?

"They're not going to self-deport." That's one of DHS Secretary Johnson's underlying justifications for granting work permits to people in the country illegally. But according to the Salt Lake Tribune, some illegal aliens are going home on their own volition. Utah has hit a 6-year low in issuing driving privilege cards to people in the state illegally Lee Davidson reports, "more evidence that illegal immigration to Utah has halted and maybe reversed with more people going home to their native countries than coming here."

Johnson points to state policies that grant driving privileges as evidence that people won't choose to go home . Now, the drop in issuances is seen as evidence that people are going home. The "continuing slow economy" has driven some people to return, while others who have been in the country illegally for some time have chosen to wait things out (the Tribune suggests that diminished demand may also be a result of more people getting amnesty through executive actions and becoming eligible for full driver's licenses.)

A mandatory E-Verify law may not result in 11 million people choosing to return to their homelands, but it would likely cause many to make the same decisions as those who are choosing to leave Utah. Without any forced deportations, E-Verify could significantly reduce the number of people in the U.S. illegally -- potentially by the millions -- and open up U.S. jobs for citizens and legal immigrants in the process.

Think Romney reads the Salt Lake Tribune?

JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Program for NumbersUSA

work permits
visa overstays

Updated: Fri, Jan 30th 2015 @ 10:10am EST

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