Differences between the administrations of Barack Obama and George W. Bush on economic policies are profound. However, when it comes to ignoring constitutional provisions mandating separation of powers, the two presidents are more alike than distinct. This phenomenon can be seen clearly in the latest maneuver by President Obama to implement a more lenient immigration policy; one in direct violation of current federal deportation law.
Dealing with illegal immigration always has been a thorny problem for presidents and members of Congress. Republicans generally favor a more restrictive policy; their Democratic counterparts a more lenient approach. This ideological gulf has stymied immigration reform legislation for years.
Facing a difficult reelection climate, and frustrated by the inability of his party to move immigration reform legislation through the Congress, Obama has decided to simply ignore existing federal law requiring deportation of illegal aliens in custody. He has decreed that hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who would otherwise be subject to mandatory deportation, will be permitted to stay in the United States; including many illegals currently enrolled in schools.
Critics of this new policy call it what it is really is – backdoor amnesty.
Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, notes that what President Obama has done is implement a major component of his agenda – and one that may very well boost his support among Latino voters — through executive fiat. Spakovsky wrote in a recent Heritage blog, “[i]t is no coincidence that the factors that DHS [Department of Homeland Security] says it will now consider are the very same provisions that were in the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors or DREAM Act that was proposed by Senator Dick Durbin.” That legislation was supported heavily by Obama, but opposed by House Republicans.
While supporters of the administration’s policy may defend the action as limited, The New York Times notes the DREAM Act would pave the way for as many as two million illegal immigrants to obtain “legal status” – or amnesty – from the federal government.
This new policy confirms what many critics have long-feared; namely the president’s lack of respect for the laws he is tasked with enforcing, and contempt for the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution. The same attitude was reflected by his predecessor, who flouted laws he decided unduly limited his powers as Commander in Chief.
Our Founding Fathers, having waged a bloody war for independence from an all-powerful monarch, intended each of the three branches of our new government to have and observe defined responsibilities as checks on the other two. The president, while exercising significant executive powers, still was bound to operate within limits set by the Congress through legislation and appropriations.
It is not as if Obama is unaware of how his latest move runs counter to that framework. As Spakovsky notes, “when the President spoke to the National Council of La Raza in July, he said that he could not go around Congress and implement immigration ‘reform’ or grant an amnesty because ‘that’s not how our democracy functions.’” What a difference a month makes.
This immigration dust up once again illustrates a serious and worsening defect in the mechanism of constitutional governance. Congressional inaction often opens the door for presidents do what they want, even though they are either not empowered to so act, or prohibited from doing so by legislation.
The Congress is as much to blame as the president.. More often than not, members either ignore such slaps at their authority, or simply complain vacuously and then move on to other concerns. This process serves to further weaken the carefully crafted checks and balances supposed to have been a hallmark of our government.