Immigration — Obama Acts Without Congress

On November 20, President Obama announced a series of executive actions on immigration policy. The president’s action will have substantial and mixed implications for the horticulture industry and the politics of immigration reform.

The president announced a “deferred action for parents” program intended to provide relief from deportation and work authority to unauthorized immigrants who are not legally present in the United States but have been here for five or more years (present since before January 1, 2010) and have U.S.-born (citizen) children. The program could impact 4 million or more unauthorized immigrants, and is expected to be operational in 180 days. He also expanded the existing “deferred action for childhood arrivals” program and announced various other border security, enforcement and visa program measures.

No definitive statistics exist regarding how many nursery, greenhouse, landscape, retail and other horticulture industry workers may qualify for the “deferred deportation” programs, but undoubtedly thousands will. No one knows how many qualifying workers will actually apply to seek relief from deportation, but again, it is likely that many will.

The president’s action is already proving to be politically divisive, and many Republican legislators say this unilaterally “poisons the well” for reform. In AmericanHort’s view, that dire prediction need not be the case. Republicans have a few choices. They can try to kill the President’s action through political or legal blocking maneuvers, but both are long shots with political downsides. They can do nothing. Or, they can mobilize to pass needed legislative solutions that supersede and replace the executive actions. Some day we may look back and conclude that President Obama’s action was a catalyst for Congressional action that should have happened seven or 14 years ago. So the commitment to the legislative process must remain steady.

On policy substance, reactions vary, as well. Many lawyers advising businesses believe that the “relief” granted would be temporary and subject to reversal. Employers must be careful not to find themselves in situations where they acquire constructive or actual knowledge that they are employing an unauthorized worker. On the other hand, worker advocates believe qualifying individuals would be foolish not to apply for deferred action. They argue that rarely in history has the U.S. acted to deport people (unless they commit crimes) once they have received some type of temporary relief.

For AmericanHort, the task ahead is two-fold. First, help our members navigate the situation with sound legal and practical guidance. We are planning a compliance webinar to cover the basic legal options and trip wires. As we are made aware of the specific policy and operational changes, we will inform members. Secondly, we will continue the political work that is needed to arrive at a legislative solution that is the only real path to addressing the present challenges and providing for the future.

For more information, visit the AmericanHort Knowledge Center.

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