Executive Action: Associations Weigh In on President’s Immigration Tactics

Although trade groups appear to be largely supportive of a solution to the immigration issue, some groups are concerned that President Obama's executive action may have poisoned the Congressional well.

Although many business groups support reform of the immigration system, the president’s executive action drew lukewarm reviews Friday. Most groups say the only long-term solution is a legislative one.

Most business groups agree that something needs to be done about immigration. But was President Obama’s strategy the right way to go?

The executive action that the  that president announced Thursday will shield as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation—a result that he said could have been reached legislatively had Republican congressional leaders not stood in the way.

“Had the House of Representatives allowed that kind of a bill a simple yes-or-no vote, it would have passed with support from both parties, and today it would be the law,” Obama said in a televised address Thursday night. “But for a year and a half now, Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow that simple vote.”

Obama’s controversial go-it-alone approach has inflamed his political critics who say it exceeds his executive powers. Associations and other nonprofits, meanwhile, differed in their opinions. A few that commented Friday:

Advocacy groups: The American Immigration Lawyers Association praised the president but noted that many questions remain. “This [is] a stopgap measure,” AILA President Leslie Holman said in a news release. “It’s not comprehensive, and it’s not permanent.” She added, “Congress should be ashamed” of its inaction on the issue. Define American, an advocacy group launched by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist (and undocumented immigrant) Jose Antonio Vargas, suggested that any action taken by the president will be limited by lingering perception issues. “While this step to ensure we can live with less fear is wonderful, the real shift cannot happen with any piece of legislation—it must come from a shift in culture,” Vargas said.

Retail groups: The National Restaurant Association sidestepped comment on the executive action, instead urging Congress to act. “The nation needs a solution, and the restaurant industry, representing the diversity of our great nation, home to generations of immigrant workers and their families, would like to see progress made on federal legislation,” NRA President and CEO Dawn Sweeney said. The National Retail Federation, meanwhile, expressed disappointment. “This executive action only provides a temporary and incomplete fix to the immigration problem and may jeopardize the chance to achieve a more complete and permanent resolution,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement.

Agricultural groups: Another critical voice came from the American Farm Bureau Federation, which called the approach short-sighted. “In practical terms, we do not expect the president’s initiative to help America’s farmers deal with the real labor challenges they face,” AFBF President Bob Stallman said in a statement. “Our nation loses millions of dollars in fruit and vegetable production every year because farmers cannot find labor to harvest everything they grow. This order will not change that.”

Tech groups: The technology sector has largely backed immigration reform to help bring and keep talent from overseas to work in the United Sates, and tech associations generally found Obama’s action positive, if not perfect. “The limited nature of tonight’s announcement, at least as it relates to high-skilled workers, makes it clear that sustainable reform requires congressional action,” TechNet President and CEO Linda Moore said of the move., the immigration advocacy group tied to Facebook, said the president’s action was “no substitute for legislation” but called it “a critical step forward.”

In a brief statement, the Internet Association struck a similar chord: “The politics of immigration reform have always been difficult, and there are strong feelings on all sides. The bottom line is that we need more high-skilled workers in the United States to continue growing our economy, and the only path forward is Republicans and Democrats working together to solve this important challenge.”

(Pete Souza/The White House)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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