Republicans in the House of Representatives deserve credit for passing a bill, belatedly, to block President Obama’s unconstitutional immigration orders. We had our differences with Republican leaders on when and how that confrontation should happen, but it has begun.
Spending authorization for the Department of Homeland Security expires at the end of February. The House has already passed a bill to extend that authorization, but with important stipulations. It blocks implementation of the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (the “Dream Act by fiat”), which was begun in 2012; a series of enforcement directives called the Morton memos dating from 2011 and 2012; and the November 2014 executive amnesty for large swaths of adult illegal immigrants.
All of those presidential actions are distortions of laws passed by Congress. They all please liberal activists at the expense of legal immigrants and the American worker. But Congress cannot fight them effectively all at once, and shouldn’t try to.
The November amnesty is by far the president’s most dramatic arrogation of power and has attracted some wariness and opposition from Democrats. The DHS fight is a political effort on behalf of the Constitution, not a strictly legal one. It needn’t treat all the president’s trespasses equally. It can and should start on the most favorable ground politically.
Republicans will get a chance to rethink their strategy when the DHS funding bill is blocked in the Senate or vetoed by the president. Some Republicans are afraid that this fight might make them look irresponsible — that they will be blamed for holding up DHS funding at a time of heightened concern about terrorism. Their squeamishness is to some degree understandable. Letting the Department of Homeland Security “shut down” is almost meaningless as a practical matter but politically risky. Still, that fear does not justify abandoning the fight.
Instead, it suggests a different strategy: Pass one bill to fund all of DHS except for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is responsible for implementing the president’s amnesty, and another bill that funds CIS but prohibits it from implementing the November amnesty.
The pressure will be on the president to sign the DHS funding bill, and a protracted fight over CIS funding carries little downside for Republicans and Democrats who oppose the president’s order. The agency receives enough in fees to perform almost all its activities without congressional appropriations. This strategy would permit Republicans to avoid complicity in an unconstitutional policy and might make the president pay a political price for blocking a bill that would tell immigration officers to do their jobs rather than implement amnesty.
There may well be other acceptable, effective ways to confront the president’s power grab. The one unacceptable option: watching the current DHS proposal fail and then proposing a new “clean” funding bill. Voting to fund an agency that is implementing an unconstitutional order without cavil would amount to surrender. Republicans can and should do better, for the sake of our constitutional order and the people who live under it.