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What Next on Immigration?
If Obama gets away with his amnesty-by-decree, other similar measures can be expected.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent walks the border fence in San Diego.

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Mark Krikorian

Mitt Romney will address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) today, and will no doubt continue his evasions regarding the president’s unconstitutional DREAM decree, which grants amnesty to perhaps 1.4 million illegal immigrants without permission from Congress.

One thing that Romney, and the GOP more generally, should consider is what’s next. If the president gets away with this usurpation of legislative authority, what other immigration measures might we expect? After all, Friday’s amnesty decree didn’t happen in a vacuum — it was the result of the administration’s getting away with a whole series of earlier, less sweeping administrative amnesty measures.

As many have noted, as late as last fall the president responded to advocacy-group demands that he unilaterally grant amnesty to illegals who came here before age 16 by saying he had no such legal authority:

I just have to continue to say this notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is just not true. We are doing everything we can administratively. But the fact of the matter is there are laws on the books that I have to enforce. And I think there’s been a great disservice done to the cause of getting the DREAM Act passed and getting comprehensive immigration passed by perpetrating the notion that somehow, by myself, I can go and do these things. It’s just not true. 

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What changed? Many suggest that politics drove the decision, specifically the desire to head off  Senator Marco Rubio’s effort to push a modified DREAM Act and to juice up enthusiasm among Hispanic activist groups for the president’s reelection. While that is no doubt true, one needs to ask why the White House thought it could get away with such a shocking power grab. And the answer is that no one stopped them before, so they figured (probably accurately, it turns out) that they could go farther.

The roadmap for the administration’s administrative amnesty strategy was laid out in a series of internal DHS memos. The overall goal is set out in a June 2010 installment entitled “Administrative Alternatives to Comprehensive Immigration Reform”:

In the absence of Comprehensive Immigration Reform [i.e., an amnesty passed by Congress], USCIS can extend benefits and/or protections to many individuals and groups . . . The following options — used alone or in combination — have the potential to result in meaningful immigration reform absent legislative action. 

Subsequent directives (the “Morton Memos“) in 2011 spelled out whole categories of illegal aliens who were to be effectively exempted from deportation, though in a less formal way than described in last week’s decree. The categories of people included DREAM Act–eligible people, those with citizen or legal-resident relatives, those caring for sick relatives, the old and the young, those with “ties and contributions to the community,” etc.

Later directives from DHS prohibited the Border Patrol from checking for illegal immigrants at bus stations and other transportation hubs near the border; ended consular interviews with visa applicants from dozens of countries in order to speed up their admission; replaced worksite enforcement with audits of personnel files, scrupulously arranged so as not to arrest any illegal immigrants; reduced immigrant detention, thus encouraging illegal immigrants to abscond; and instructed the Border Patrol to simply release any “low-priority” illegals that it catches. 

The earlier memos also laid out a series of more technical changes that could allow thousands of illegal immigrants to stay here legally, some of which have also been implemented.

The White House, having gotten away with all this, must have seen the DREAM decree as less risky than it might have early in the president’s term. No need to fuss over “laws on the books that I have to enforce” when you’ve gotten away with not enforcing so many of them.



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