The broadcast networks refused to air the president’s immigration speech, with some insiders admitting the networks found it too political. Besides that, the speech was insulting to anyone remotely familiar with our system of government, and it assumes that his base is so unhinged it will stop at nothing to get what it wants. Obama seems to have learned (or didn’t) in the midterms that the country is not the same as his base.
By the time the speech rolled around, we already knew the main provisions of his executive order and even the empty phrases
to justify going around the law-making branch of government. He will grant a reprieve from deportation for three years for an estimated 4 million people, either illegal immigrant parents of children who are legal residents or citizens residing here for at least five years and those brought here by 2010 illegally as children. How anyone goes about definitively establishing exactly when people entered illegally will be one of many issues to be worked out.
He proclaimed, “And to those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill.”
But who needs Congress when the president declares what is reasonable and comes up with his own bill? (“What I’m describing is accountability—a common-sense, middle-ground approach: If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported.”) Of course, as president you don’t get to make up rules that change existing law simply because another branch won’t do what you want. That negates the essence of separation of powers and checks and balances. A president can’t take over the Congress’s delegated powers if others don’t cooperate any more than Congress can take over law enforcement or the courts can issue pardons (the president has that power).
And there was the false choice: Round up and deport everyone or he acts alone. It was this type of reasoning that suggests he thinks Americans are, to quote some adviser he had, “stupid.”
His assertion that other presidents have done the same is patently false, something the former constitutional law instructor should know. No, in other cases the presidents acted to interpret existing law as Congress authorized them to do. And the huge number of the persons affected by Obama’s actions in and of itself sets a new and disturbing precedent. In short, prior presidents were not operating in direct contravention of law that Congress refused to change.
Beyond the lame excuses for acting on his own, the plan risks another surge at the border. The reason for doing border security first is to cut off others who would flock seeking the same relief. And the purpose of a slow and demanding path to legalization is both to disincentivize other illegal immigrants and preserve the integrity of a system that determines (or used to determine) who gets into the country and who doesn’t. (He laughably described the border crises earlier this year as “a brief spike” in unaccompanied minors trying to enter. One wonders how many spikes are ahead.)
From start to finish the speech was full of condescending admonitions for Congress to rise above politics and not shut down the government over this one issue. It is probably a blessing for him that the networks did not carry the speech. They would have melted the White House phone lines.
Speaker of the House John Boehner put out a succinct message before the president’s remarks: “Instead of working together to fix our broken immigration system, the president says he’s acting on his own. That’s just not how our democracy works. The president has said before that ‘he’s not king’ and he’s ‘not an emperor,’ but he’s sure acting like one. And he’s doing it a time when the American people want nothing more than for us to work together.” That seems to sum it up.
And Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) made a sound point in his released statement, one of the more impressive of a slew of GOP missives. “I question the authority to make a blanket decision regarding the prosecution of criminal laws, as opposed to making decisions in a specific individual’s case. Further, prosecutorial discretion does not give authority to grant unprosecuted violators with privileges or benefits such as work permits. Such benefits granted to unprosecuted violators may be in violation of the law.” It is one thing not to deport it is another thing to award green cards in contravention of federal law.
As with the Taliban prisoner swap the White House may not have spotted the backlash about to wash over them. The issue will no doubt come in to play in 2016. Speaking of which, what does Hillary Clinton think? It will be interesting to see if she agrees a president can do whatever he wants if Congress does not agree.