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President Obama’s Immigration Order, Reminiscent of Emancipation Proclamation

25 June 2012 No Comment

by Dr. Ivory Phillips, Jackson Advocate Contributing Editor
Member, MIRA Board of Directors

Last week President Barack Obama issued an executive order that halted the deportation of a group of young immigrants to this country. In many ways the order reminded the writer of the
Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln nearly 150 years ago. The order enables individuals to be eliminated from deportation under a particular set of conditions.

The conditions include:
- having come to the United States before the age of 16;
- being below the age of 30;
- having resided continuously in the United States prior to June 15 and being present in the country on that date;
- being currently enrolled in school or college,having graduated from high school, having a GED certificate or having been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or United States armed forces; and
- having not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise posing a threat to national security or public safety.

One of the first things to capture one’s attention is that the order very narrowly restricts the category of persons exempted from deportation. One would be hard-pressed to object to such a category of persons being enabled to remain in the country for several years while they work toward citizenship and positively contribute to the country. In a similar way, the Emancipation Proclamation was very narrow in its application. It only applied to those territories that were still in rebellion against the United States. It did not apply to the Free States, did not apply to Slave States that were fighting with the Union, and did not apply to territories that had come under the control of the Union army. Just as the immigration order, it was so restricted until most people should have been hard-pressed to oppose it.

Obama’s immigration order is temporary rather than a permanent fix of the problem. It is temporary in that it is an executive order which can be overturned by a future president. It is also temporary in that it only applies for several years at a time, with immigrants being able to renew their applications for exemption.

There are those who criticize the order because it by-passes Congress. Abe Lincoln was criticized because the Emancipation Proclamation bypassed Congress. That, however, is the nature of executive orders. They can and are used when Congress is clearly obstinate or will not act on a good and needs immediate action, such as Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman in dealing with racial discrimination during World War II.

In the case of the ending of slavery, the Thirteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution in order to make emancipation permanent and universal. Congressional legislation, such as the Dream Act, now needs to be passed in order to deal with immigration reform in a permanent and universal manner.

The problem definitely needs to be fixed in a manner that is just, rational and humane. America is and, since the permanent arrival of the Europeans, has been a nation of immigrants. It has welcomed those who sought refuge, those who came to contribute and those who sought their fortunes in a legitimate way. That is one of its greatest strengths.

Finally, there are many critics who say that the issuing of the order at this time was merely a political move. That perhaps may be true but does not take away from the good and rightness of the action. It is true that President Obama is facing a difficult battle for re-election largely because he is African American and many radical Republicans prefer seeing the economy in shambles if it means his defeat. They are throwing everything at him including the kitchen sink – blame for Bush’s actions in terms of the economy and the two wars, Congress’ refusal to fully fund proposals to set the economy aright and accusations that he was not born in America, is a Muslim and is a socialist.

With that being the case, one should not be surprised if he reaches out for help. The question is, “does a possible political motive nullify the good that is being done or the justice of the cause?” Of course it does not. For that reason, we should rejoice with these young immigrants rather than spurn the action because we do not like why we think it came about. Think of the opportunities it opens up, the families it heals, and the benefits the country receives.

Were the slaves less free because the Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order; because Lincoln felt it would help win the Civil War? Good consequences can and do often emerge despite less than pure motives. Just as with Lincoln and the issue of slavery, perhaps Obama knew that he would be damned if he did and damned if he did not help the undocumented immigrants. This writer simply thanks Obama for choosing the right course of action AND he will rejoice with the young immigrants, just as the abolitionists rejoiced with the freed slaves.


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