So Obama gave his big speech last night about immigration. The big change is he will extend temporary legal status to about 4-5 million illegal immigrants. To qualify, they will have to have been here five years, have US citizen relatives and have not broken the law (I mean, other than the ones they broke getting here). There is no path to legal status, a green card or citizenship (at least, not yet). And, of course, the next President could undo it.
I’ve made it clear where I stand on this: we need to make it easier for people to legally come here and work; we need to make it harder for people to come here illegally; people who came here illegally should not be moved to the front of the line when it comes to getting legal status. The underlying problem is that we have a broken immigration system. We have a system where coming to America to work involves a long, drawn-out, frustrating and expensive process and becomes a big driver of illegal immigration. Until we fix that, illegal immigration is still going to be a problem. I’m also sympathetic to the arguments that our immigration policy shouldn’t break up families or send people back to countries they’ve never lived in.
All that having been said, I still don’t like what the President is doing.
First, he is doing this by executive fiat without any consultation with Congress. Now I absolutely agree that Congress has dropped the ball on this. Over and over again, they have refused to do anything about our immigration mess. But this does not make the President’s unilateral action wise or even constitutional. Our Constitution does not have a “Congress are being assholes” clause. In fact, the Justice Department informed Obama, they day before his speech, that his actions were of dubious legality. When your own justice department tells you that, that translates into plain english as “this is fucking illegal.”
Even if you assume that he has the authority to act here, that still doesn’t make it right. He’s not even giving Congress a chance to do something about immigration. Obama told the last Congress to stall on immigration until after the election. He has not given the lame duck Congress a chance to act nor has he given the new Congress a chance to act. If he were doing this six months into a Republican Congress, he might have a point. But then again, the new Congress is unlikely to give him the kind of immigration reform he wants. Thus, the petulant act.
Second, Obama can dress this up all he wants. He can claim this isn’t an amnesty. But as noted Matt Welch — a supporter of massively expanded immigration — this is amnesty. When you say you will not deport people who break the law, that’s pretty much the definition of amnesty.
My fellow supporters of vastly increased legal immigration to this country do not, I believe, further their cause by retreating into soft-focus euphemism (DREAMers!) or sidestepping uncomfortable language just because it has proven politically effective for people on the other side of the issue.
If you recognized the existence of more than 10 million unpermitted residents in this country as the product more of prohibition than of criminality, and acted upon that insight foremostly by expanding and deregulating legal immigration, then I predict the word “amnesty” would start to lose some of its negative potency. People really resent line-jumpers when the queue stretches back as far as the eye can see; speed up that process and our national debate would look a lot more reasoned and thoughtful.
Exactly. I lived in Texas for four years. We had a lot of people who did work for us that I’m sure were of questionable legal status. They worked hard, they took care of their families, they obeyed any laws unrelated to immigration. But they were still law-breakers. I want to see them get a chance to come to this country legally. I do not want to see them get that chance ahead of people who have obeyed the law.
The laws against illegal immigration aren’t like a law against free speech or for discrimination. Coming to this country illegally is not an act of civil disobedience. This is a serious business.
Finally, the President’s verbal gymnastics did not persuade me; they annoyed me. He argued very well that we need immigration reform. He didn’t persuade me at all that this was what we needed McArdle:
As an act of rare semantic derring-do, this was a towering achievement. As a political speech, I don’t think it was very effective. It puts one in mind of the debate in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which ends when one side manages to prove that black is white — and gets themselves killed at the next pedestrian crosswalk.
To be honest, it’s not clear to me that the president was trying to be persuasive. He seemed, rather, to be triple-dog-daring Republicans to jump off the bridge with him, and if history is any guide, they will probably oblige. But there’s a real risk that Democrats will come to regret having the president jump first.
(McArdle also points out the significance that his speech was only broadcast on Univision. And that is a key point. A lot of this speech wasn’t about advancing policy; it was about trawling for latino votes. Expect the ability of the next President to undo Obama’s amnesty to become a big issues in 2016.)
So what should Republicans do? The most common tactic I hear is recession — using the budget process to defund the President’s actions. I would support that but I think it’s small. A better idea would be for the Republicans to pass their own version of immigration reform and dare the President to veto it. Force his hand. Force him to choose his executive fiat over the legal and constitutional moves of the Congress. Show that Republicans are not a bunch of anti-immigrants racists; they just want the law to be obeyed.