President doesn’t set immigration policy

President Barack Obama’s unexpected announcement last Friday, to effectively enact the immigration Dream Act by executive order, caught most folks by surprise, including leading Republicans.

Political questions aside — and there’s no doubt this was a political action — there are serious constitutional questions about whether a president can simply choose to ignore a portion of federal law enacted by Congress.

President Obama is grossly overstepping his authority in this instance, attempting to establish immigration policy through deliberate inaction. Establishing federal policy on immigration is the responsibility of Congress. It is the duty of the executive branch to enforce laws adopted by Congress.

Obama acknowledged this a few months ago when he said with respect to the Dream Act, “I can’t do this alone because there are laws on the books.”

Those laws are still on the books.

One that isn’t on the books is the Dream Act because Congress has so far refused to enact it. In various versions, the Dream Act would allow the children of illegal immigrants, who were brought to this country as minors, to stay here to attend college or work if they meet certain criteria.

The measure Obama announced last week would make illegal immigrants immune from deportation if they were brought here before they were 16, are currently under 30, and have been in this country for at least five years continuously. They must also have no criminal record, have graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED or served in the military.

We have long believed that something like the Dream Act makes sense. Youngsters who had no part in the decision to violate our immigration laws when their parents brought them here illegally, who have lived in this country for much of their lives, who have worked hard and been good scholars, deserve the chance to stay here, at least to finish their education.

But we see several problems with Obama’s order. The first is that it can be reversed at any time by Obama or his successor in the White House. No wonder several young immigrants who were interviewed by the Associated Press last week after the president’s announcement were skeptical about it.

But the larger issue is Obama’s decision to selectively enforce federal law and to effectively assume the legislative duties of Congress for himself.

In a rational world, Congress would act quickly, preferably to enact some version of the Dream Act but, at the very least, to reassert its legislative authority over immigration issues. But this is an election year, and both parties desperately hope to woo large numbers of Hispanic voters.

However, the fact remains: Obama overstepped his authority.


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