The House Judiciary Committee held a held a hearing Tuesday on President Obama’s recent Immigration Accountability Executive Action, focusing on the administration’s executive action that defers deportation for the parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. Known as the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program, this portion of executive action has provoked the ire of many House Republicans. Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), for example, called DAPA “one of the biggest constitutional power grabs ever.” Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) said there are “few things Presidents can do that are more dangerous.”

Although the witnesses called by the majority attempted to prove those claims, they wound up talking in circles. They were unable to rebut the legal questions raised by Democratic members, or the oft-repeated precedents for when presidents took executive action on immigration.

The three majority witnesses—all lawyers, none of them immigration specialists—tied themselves in knots asserting that the President had overstepped his role and violated the Constitution. For instance, Professor Ronald Rotunda of Chapman Law School argued that prosecutorial discretion—the decision not to pursue action against an individual—could only be used in criminal, not civil law, despite that immigration officials use discretion all the time. Rotunda implicitly acknowledged this by noting, “We’re not going to march 11 million people south of the border. Democracies just don’t have mass deportations.”

Jay Sekulow, of the American Center for Law and Justice, repeatedly noted that deferred actions are temporary and DHS still makes case-by-case determinations—red herrings that had nothing to do with deferred actions’ legality. Thomas Dupree, a former George W. Bush Administration official, argued that his administration “sought to get a bill through Congress,” but “did not attempt to achieve [reform] through executive fiat.” He conveniently left out that following the 2007 collapse of immigration reform, Secretary Michael Chertoff announced a 26-point plan to use “every tool that we have in the toolbox” to administratively improve the immigration system.

In contrast, 135 immigration law professors recently made the case for the legality of President Obama’s actions. Marielena Hincapie, of the National Immigrant Law Center, added a human face was able to build on that base in her testimony. She noted that “one cannot understate the significant impact this policy change will have on the estimated 4.4 million individuals who might qualify.” It’s not about “politics or abstract numbers,” she said. “This will lift the traumatic and paralyzing experience of living in fear of deportation. […] These mothers, fathers, and young immigrants who are already here, working, part of the social fabric of our country, will be able to contribute even more fully to our great nation.”

During the Judiciary Committee hearing, House leadership announced a plan for a vote to overrule President Obama’s actions for these family members. The New York Times called the planned vote “symbolic,” since the Senate will not pass it and President Obama would veto it. No action on the Senate’s reform bill is planned.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) summed it up best by saying, “This is a messaging hearing, rather than a substantive oversight hearing.” President Obama’s executive actions on immigration are a Band-Aid, but America’s immigration system remains in urgent need of congressional reform. As the American Immigration Council reiterated, “legislation is the only way to provide lasting change. […] The President’s executive actions are an important first step.”

Photo Courtesy of House GOP.

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