President Obama’s executive action last week is only an interim step. More amnesty is coming, much more. It must.
More amnesty is coming, first, because the president’s action creates an unsustainable status quo. Millions of people are about to obtain work permits and Social Security numbers—but not (or so the president says) any right to health coverage or other social benefits. What happens if they get sick? What if they lose their jobs? Suffer a debilitating injury at work? According to Obama, these people are “as American as Sasha and Malia” except for the small technical complication of lacking “the right papers.” The president denounced as “cruel” the expectation that illegal aliens return to their native countries. If these people are to stay here, though, how is it not also “cruel” to deny them the same protections enjoyed by other Americans? Almost six in 10 illegal-immigrant adults had no health insurance in 2007. Is it really plausible that they will passively accept this status quo after they regain residency rights? Almost as soon as the working papers are issued, expect a new round of demands for a second action—one that will enroll the newly documented aliens in social programs.
Obama’s disavowal of social benefits for the newly legalized will not long remain Democratic Party policy. The precedent is President Clinton’s tactical maneuvering on his children’s-health program, SCHIP, back in the 1990s. To gain Republican assent to the program, Clinton agreed that it would exclude new immigrants, people who had lived in the United States for less than five years. Having made the agreement, Democrats almost immediately chafed against it. As a senator, Hillary Clinton sponsored legislation to make all immigrants eligible for SCHIP. Defeated during the George W. Bush years, SCHIP extension was one of the very first priorities of the new Obama administration, and the president signed it into law in February 2009.
Obama’s successors will likely reverse him on social benefits for migrants just as Clinton’s successors reversed him on SCHIP.