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Obama’s Immigration Order: Good Policy, Legal, And Doesn’t Establish A New Precedent

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I have a piece up on Obama’s immigration order. It’s formally legal, it’s good policy for the reasons Erik explains below, and while it’s not the ideal means of establishing the policy it’s the only game in town. In particular, I reject the idea that this establishes some kind of dangerous new precedent:

If the Republican party was at all interested in actual governance, a mediocre immigration reform proposal passed by Congress would be preferable to an executive order, which can be undone with the stroke of a pen after the next election (which will not have Barack Obama on the ballot). But that also undermines claims that Obama’s executive order represents “tyranny”.

Does using executive privilege to achieve immigration reform set a dangerous precedent? Well, long before Obama even ran for elected office – as Erwin Chemerinsky and Samuel Kleiner observed at the New Republic – Ronald Reagan “took executive action to limit deportations for 200,000 Nicaraguan exiles” and the first President Bush did the same for some Chinese and Kuwaiti citizens. At most, Obama’s actions differ only in degree, not kind.

In a more general sense, presidents have been pushing the limits of their constitutional authority since the beginning of the republic. If you had asked Thomas Jefferson in 1799 if the Louisiana Purchase was constitutional, he would almost certainly have said no – but we aren’t giving the land back. (Admittedly, sometimes I’m tempted to say that the US should look for the receipt and return some of those now-red states to France in exchange for a few dozen cases of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.)

It’s understandable for liberals to worry that just because Obama used his executive authority in this way, some future Republican president – like Rand Paul the Terrible, or Emperor Marco Rubio, or His Highness Ted Cruz – might push the limits of the law over the edge. But it’s pretty unhelpful, too.

Both the second Bush administration and the actions of Republicans in Congress make it abundantly clear that the next Republican in the Oval Office is going to push toward – and probably beyond – the limits of his legal authority, no matter what Obama does. (For instance, George W Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, established by executive order, contradicted a statute outright, which Obama’s order does not.) If hypothetical president Rand Paul wants to refuse to enforce the Civil Rights Act, he’s not going to be dissuaded because Obama refused to act on immigration.

But read the whole etc. and discuss.

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