Executive Orders and Policy Credibility

Barack Obama has recently passed an order which will allow illegal immigrants to apply for deportation deferrals.  Republicans hate this idea.  In fact, virtually every GOP Presidential candidate for 2016 has already pledged to roll it back.  Immigration enforcement was the main subject of AG nominee Loretta Lynch’s confirmation today.  I think virtually everyone expects that if the GOP wins the Presidency in 2016, this executive order will be reversed.

If you are not an illegal immigrant, try and place yourself in their shoes.  President Obama is offering protection to you if you “come out of the shadows”, giving you a chance to live your life normally.  All you need to do is sign some forms and provide some documentation.  But think ahead to 2017.  If the Republicans win the Presidency, cracking down on illegal immigrants will be a top priority.  Where will they start? Perhaps with a nicely documented list of illegal immigrants conveniently handed to them by the outgoing Obama DOJ, with your name and address sitting on top.  Coming out of the shadows looks uncomfortably like stepping into the spotlight.

In short, this is a highly non-credible offer of protection.  It’s also a good example of just how limited executive power can be – its lack of political support means it can be very ineffective.  The policy is fragile, and actors are forward-looking; they will not adjust their behavior in ways that might hurt them in future periods after the policy repealed. Laying down the marker now: the number of illegal immigrants who apply for deferral under this proposal will fall far short of the 4 million projected.

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