In May, the White House announced that unless Congress moved forward with the type of immigration bill favored by President Obama, he would consider taking unilateral executive action on the matter. The threat was soon fleshed out: The president might offer “deferred action” to millions of illegal immigrants, perhaps up to half of the illegal population, who would receive both work permits and protection against prosecution and deportation. (He used the same method on an unprecedented scale in 2012, with hundreds of thousands of potential DREAM Act recipients.) This kind of power grab — and its rationale, impatience with congressional gridlock — would have been a serious blow to the Constitution, our political traditions, and the interests of American citizens and legal residents.
The president announced this weekend that he doesn’t think it’s a good idea either — until after the election. The justifications he offered border on fraudulent. He needs more time to “make sure all the t’s are crossed” in laying out his legal justification, he said Sunday. Yet surely Obama’s lawyers are by now well practiced in the kind of casuistry required. There are politics, too, he admitted: Americans are concerned about the state of our immigration system because of the surge of Central American children at the border this summer. His executive-action plans, he says, are “going to be more sustainable and more effective if the public understands what the facts are on immigration, what we’ve done on unaccompanied children, and why it’s necessary.”
This is self-evident nonsense. The immigration debate, of course, has been going on for longer than the time between now and November, and proponents of comprehensive reform have not been gaining ground of late. Meanwhile, the president has hardly been spending much time making the public case for his unilateral plans. There are plenty of flaws in that case, rarely though it is made: How is an administrative amnesty, dependent on the whims of the executive, in any sense a “sustainable” approach? If the United States truly faces an immigration crisis that demands the president’s action, why is this delay acceptable? (Indeed, open-borders advocates, who deploy the crisis charade with more consistency, have called out the president on his cynicism.)
Senate Democrats have been more honest about the political problems: The real reason for the delay is the bleating of the party’s red-state candidates.
Even their concerns may have an expiration date. Senator Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) has said that he supports executive action after the elections, though he isn’t up for reelection. Red-state candidates also haven’t done much about it when they have had the chance — at least before they began to realize it was a political loser. Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) forced a procedural vote this summer, against the objections of Majority Leader Harry Reid, on an amendment by Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) prohibiting the president’s executive amnesty proposal. Every Senate Democrat up for reelection this fall voted not to consider it.
Sessions and Cruz had the right idea. When the president won’t take care that the laws are faithfully executed, the legislature must make every effort to ensure that he does. Republican legislators should continue to force votes on the issue. Republican candidates, meanwhile, should press their opponents on where they stand — with the rule of law, or the rule of the president’s pen.