Immigration is a hugely important, multi-faceted issue. In a world of many terrorist threats, border security is of paramount importance. The influx of immigrants who don’t enter the country in an authorized way puts pressure on education, health care, and social benefits systems. Immigrants are happy to perform physically challenging, low-paying jobs that are essential to our economy. And what should we do with immigrants who crossed the border illegally but have worked here for years and whose children were born here?
So it is perhaps not surprising — in fact, it’s entirely predictable — that the incredibly important immigration issue manages to encompass much of what is appalling about the current sorry state of American government: completely politicized yet frozen in place, featuring a legislative branch that is seemingly incapable of acting despite the obvious need for action and a President who can’t lead or forge a compromise and so acts unilaterally, and infused with finger-pointing, cringing political correctness and demagoguery that seems to preclude both rational discussion and reasonable compromise.
President Obama’s decision yesterday to issue sweeping executive orders on immigration issues — orders that will establish new programs that will change the legal status of millions of immigrants, change deportation practices, and end other programs — don’t help matters because they just highlight the politicization of this important issue. President Obama has previously said, correctly I think, that changing immigration laws and policies through unilateral executive orders would be “very difficult to defend legally.” The President also earlier had made the decision to defer any action on immigration until after the election, an approach that obviously was calculated to help Senate Democrats up for reelection. In view of that decision, arguments that unilateral action is urgently needed now ring awfully hollow.
I’m sure that President Obama’s supporters will argue that issuing executive orders of dubious constitutionality is justified here because it will goad Congress into taking action that should have been taken long ago. That argument is like saying that the behavior of the bully in A Christmas Story was justified because it ultimately provoked Ralphie into standing up for himself. I’m not buying that, either. America is supposed to be a constitutional form of government where the executive branch and legislative branch both respect and honor the limitations on their powers. The fact that Congress has dropped the ball doesn’t excuse the President’s overstepping of his constitutional authority.
I’m not trying to excuse Congress’ leaden inactivity on developing a comprehensive set of immigration reforms or side with the anti-immigration fear-mongers, but I think President Obama’s decision to issue these executive orders is a mistake that will only make it much more difficult to address a crucial issue in the correct, constitutional way. Brace yourself, because the shrill demagoguery on all sides is about to increase in pitch and volume.