Three words for President Barack Obama: Don’t do it.
Don’t sign an executive order unilaterally creating faux immigration reform.
Advocates, frustrated by a Congress that through two presidencies has failed to enact reform, are pressing for big and bold action.
Such action might be satisfying for a day or two. But it would set back their cause for years, if not decades. The next Republican president could reverse such an order immediately. Even the pragmatic members of Congress would have no appetite to tackle permanent, comprehensive reform.
And it would ensure that nothing, absolutely nothing, gets done in Washington, D.C., until the next president takes office.
Plenty of Democrats, particularly congressional and gubernatorial candidates, are urging the president to refrain. But the White House is sending out signals that, yes, Obama is seriously contemplating taking executive actions, independent of Congress, that conceivably could create a legal status for perhaps millions of undocumented immigrants.
The options reportedly include broadening his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to include the parents of children who came to this country as minors. He could expand the “parole in place” program that allows non-citizens to enter the U.S. for humanitarian reasons. And there are numerous other means to extend de facto legal status to individuals both inside the U.S. now or seeking entry.
Any actions contemplated by the White House that have the impact of altering the legal status of large numbers of people — figures of 5 million or more are being bandied about — are destined to have profound ramifications beyond the immediate, explicit goal of legalizing the status of undocumented immigrants.
Those consequences extend well beyond the issue of immigration itself and into genuine constitutional questions about the limits of presidential authority.
The question of constitutional authority has been debated at the margins in regard to many of President Obama’s executive orders. Does the U.S. Constitution afford a president the authority to amend an act of Congress in as many ways as Obama has altered the Affordable Care Act? Maybe. Maybe not.
Acting alone to impart legal status to millions of people is a constitutional question more serious by orders of magnitude. The Constitution explicitly gives Congress the power “to establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization.”
Political cynics suggest Obama may invoke executive authority over immigration law precisely because it would provoke a constitutional furor, and, perhaps, impeachment proceedings — an action that turned politically sour for Republicans when they impeached President Bill Clinton. We devoutly hope the president is not so foolish.
This way is folly, President. Yes, Congress’ failure to act is frustrating. But if Obama takes these actions on his own, it would constitute a higher order of failure.