Published online: Jun 22, 2012 Potato Harvesting, Potato Equipment
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President Obama does not have the authority to change the enforcement of immigration law, it will not help the West Coast agricultural labor shortage and actually sets back efforts toward immigration reform, a California labor leader says.

"I don't believe he has the right to violate our constitution, the interstate commerce clause and to violate immigration law by issuing an executive order like that," said Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League, in Fresno, Calif.

The Obama administration surprised the nation June 15 by announcing that it will stop deporting illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. before they were 16 years old and who are still younger than 30, have been in the country five years, have no criminal history and have graduated from high school or served in the military. They will be eligible for two-year work permits that may be renewed.

Many observers view it as a political move to gain the president votes from Latinos and similar to a version of the DREAM Act put forth by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

"They (the president's team) were afraid of what Marco Rubio was trying to work out and did this to get a leg up on him," said Mike Gonzalez, vice president of communications at the Heritage Foundation, in Washington, D.C.

But the president cannot change laws and has no authority to not enforce laws, Gonzalez said.

"He already did that with the Defense of Marriage Act and said it was the opinion of the Justice Department that the act was unconstitutional, but that's the job of the Supreme Court," Gonzalez said. "This is playing politics and dividing people. The president can have all the opinions he wants but he cannot change a law unilaterally."

The move undermines work to find reasonable solutions to immigration problems to safeguard the nation's borders, he said.

Cunha noted that in 1942 President Franklin Roosevelt created the Bracero program by executive order, bringing workers in from Mexico and other countries to do farm work during World War II. It had the consent of Congress and was deemed an emergency to keep farms producing food, Cunha said.

But there is no emergency now, presidents Clinton and Bush failed to deal with immigration and Obama took pieces of Rubio's legislation for political gain, Cunha said.

It will not help the West Coast seasonal ag labor shortage at all because there are probably fewer than 100,000 people nationwide between 16 and 30 who are of illegal status and in farmworker families and desiring farm work, he said. Those under 18 would need their parents to sign for the work permits and the parents, of illegal immigration status, won't want to do so because it lets the government know their names and addresses, he said.

Most of those over 18 will use the work permits to leave agriculture and compete for industrial jobs, he said.

"The president did this totally on the premise of an election. If he really cared about this, he would have brought Rubio and others together to make it happen," Cunha said. "But this makes it tougher to get an immigration bill passed because Republicans will throw up their arms and say mandatory E-verify for everyone. It puts fuel on the fire."

SOURCE: Dan Wheat, Capital Press