Immigration Reform: Presidential Power and the Road Ahead
May 5, 2021
The immigration policies of the last four years have elicited tremendous political controversy. When President Trump barred people from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, separated migrant children from their families, and declared a national emergency to fund construction of his border wall, his administration’s actions provoked congressional opposition and public revulsion.
But the roots of presidential power over immigration law are deep and the controversy longstanding. Today, as the debate over reform rages on, understanding the source of the president's power has never been more urgent.
In their recent book, The President and Immigration Law, Professors Adam B. Cox of NYU School of Law and Cristina M. Rodríguez of Yale Law School show how we got to this present moment. Presidents have been given broad authority over immigration by Congress. But today, in a world where half of all noncitizens live in violation of the law and enforcement dominates immigration policymaking, the president’s power has never been greater. That power to decide who America lets in—and who gets kicked out—poses serious challenges to the rule of law and highlights the need for radical, legislative reform.
Cox and Rodríguez joined Cecilia Muñoz, former Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under President Obama, for a conversation on the road ahead for immigration policy and reform. What are the most pressing challenges lawmakers must grapple with? How much power should the executive branch have over enforcement? And what chance does a reform package stand of passing the Congress?
Adam B. Cox Robert A. Kindler Professor of Law, NYU School of Law
Adam Cox is the Robert A. Kindler Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, where he teaches and writes about immigration law, constitutional law, and democracy. Before coming to NYU, he was a professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School.
Cox received his B.S.E. in mechanical engineering summa cum laude from Princeton University, and his J.D. summa cum laude from the University of Michigan Law School. At Michigan he served as an articles editor of the Michigan Law Review and received the Daniel H. Grady Prize for graduating first in the law school class. He clerked for Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. After his clerkship he served as the Karpatkin Civil Rights Fellow for the American Civil Liberties Union, where he was involved in racial profiling and public defender reform litigation, and practiced at Wilmer, Cutler, and Pickering, where he first litigated immigration cases.
Cristina Rodríguez Leighton Homer Surbeck Professor of Law, Yale Law School
Cristina Rodríguez is the Leighton Homer Surbeck Professor of Law at Yale Law School. Her fields of research include constitutional law and theory, immigration law and policy, administrative law and process, and citizenship theory. In recent years, her work has focused on constitutional structures and institutional design. She has used immigration law and related areas as vehicles through which to explore how the allocation of power (through federalism, the separation of powers, and the structure of the bureaucracy) shapes the management and resolution of legal and political conflict. Her work also has examined the effects of immigration on society and culture, as well as the legal and political strategies societies adopt to absorb immigrant populations. Her new book, The President and Immigration Law (Oxford University Press, September 2020), coauthored with Adam Cox, explores the long history of presidential control over immigration policy and its implications for the future of immigration law and the presidency itself.
Rodríguez joined Yale Law School in 2013 after serving for two years as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice. She was on the faculty at the New York University School of Law from 2004–2012 and has been Visiting Professor of Law at Stanford, Harvard, and Columbia Law Schools. She is a non-resident fellow at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., a member of the American Law Institute, and a past member of the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2020, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She earned her B.A. and J.D. degrees from Yale and attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, where she received a Master of Letters in Modern History. Following law school, Rodríguez clerked for Judge David S. Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Cecilia Muñoz, Senior Advisor, New America
Cecilia Muñoz is a national leader in public policy and public interest technology with nearly three decades of experience in the non-profit sector and 8 years of service on President Obama’s senior team. She joined New America in 2017 as a vice president, leading local initiatives and building a team on public interest technology. She returned to New America as a senior advisor in early 2021 after taking leave to lead the domestic and economic policy team for the Biden/Harris Transition.
Previously, she served for eight years on President Obama’s senior staff, first as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs followed by five years as Director of the Domestic Policy Council. Before working in government, she spent 20 years at the National Council of La Raza (now UNIDOS US), the nation’s largest Hispanic policy and advocacy organization. Cecilia is also a Senior Fellow at Results for America, a nonprofit that advances the use of data and evidence in policy making. She received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2000 for her work on immigration and civil rights, and is a trustee of the Kresge, MacArthur and Joyce Foundations. She advises the Open Society and JPB Foundations, and serves on the boards of several nonprofit organizations. In 2020, she published the award-winning More Than Ready: Be Strong and Be You...and Other Lessons for Women of Color on the Rise, which shares insights from her career as well as the careers of other notable women of color.