The president for years has been justifying his gutting of immigration-law enforcement by saying he can’t wait for Congress to act. This “we can’t wait” refrain is now being taken to a new level to justify the planned amnesty decree for several million illegal aliens, something Ross Douthat has rightly labeled “lawless, reckless, a leap into the antidemocratic dark.”
Sunday, Obama consigliere Dan Pfeiffer said “the president has no choice but to act.” The illegal-alien-on-the-street echoes this impatience with democracy: “That process of trying to do it by the book is too long.”
But where’s the emergency? A unilateral amnesty, contrary to the wishes of Congress, would indeed be “the most extreme act of executive overreach ever attempted by an American president in peacetime.” What kind of non-war-related development could justify a power grab of such magnitude? Maybe an epidemic that had killed millions. A solar flare that knocked out the power grid. An impending asteroid. Zombies. And whether the fears were justified or not, at least the extraordinary measures taken during the financial crisis were motivated by a real fear of economic collapse.
We obviously face nothing comparable today. Even the illegal aliens who would benefit from the president’s extra-legal action don’t face any real threat of having to return home. The president long ago exempted the majority of the illegal population from law enforcement; in the words of the former head of ICE, “If you are a run-of-the-mill immigrant here illegally, your odds of getting deported are close to zero.”
The president isn’t “forced” to do anything regarding amnesty. He just doesn’t care for the challenges presented by a governing system of distributed power, where changes to the law must clear multiple hurdles to ensure a certain level of necessity and consent. Maybe they should have taught the “I’m Just a Bill” song at Harvard Law School.
Caesar and Bonaparte grabbed power in the midst of genuine crises of governance, emergencies to which they offered themselves as the solution. Obama proposes to cut a gash in the fabric of republican government merely to achieve a policy objective, one he could have enacted lawfully at the beginning of his administration, but chose not to. House Republicans were right to deliver a rebuke Friday; shame on their Democratic colleagues, for whom the end apparently justifies the means.