Republicans are still fulminating about last week’s presidential power grab, and with good reason. President Obama’s executive orders granting legal status to 5 million illegal immigrants were contrary to proper constitutional order as well as the will of an American people that had just issued a rebuke to his policies and his party in the midterm elections. But the onus right now seems to be on the GOP to come up with a coherent response to the president on immigration, whether a strategy to push back on his orders or on the issue itself. In particular, the president has challenged Republicans to “pass a bill” if they don’t like what he’s done. But while that sounds logical, the president’s actions are nothing more than a partisan trap. By effectively neutering the rule of law via mass “selective prosecution,” what Obama has done is to vindicate the positions of the most extreme opponents of immigration reform.
The genius of Obama’s amnesty for illegals via executive orders is not that he has somehow championed the underdog or ensured the Hispanic vote for the Democrats for generations to come, as many Democrats are saying. The orders, which can be reversed if the GOP wins back the White House in 2016, won’t permanently change anything for the illegals. And Hispanics weren’t flipping to the Republicans even if the House had passed the Senate immigration reform bill last year. What the orders have done though is dashed the House and Senate GOP leadership’s hopes for setting a governing agenda by making bipartisan cooperation a toxic phrase in the majority caucuses next year. While there may be deals to be made on trade, taxes, or the use of force in the Middle East, Obama has ensured that much of the Republican Party’s energies will be wasted on futile attempts to stop his unilateral immigration policies. Even more to the point, immigration reform is dead on arrival for the next two years.
It should be remembered that Republicans were divided on immigration in the Congress that is just reaching the end of its term. A significant faction in the Senate backed the comprehensive bipartisan reform bill passed by the upper body. There were significant numbers in the House GOP caucus that favored tackling border enforcement even if the majority wanted no part of the Senate bill.
Opponents of even going that far had two standard replies to those favoring such measures. The first argued that any deal promising a free pass to illegals already here would generate another surge of illegals coming in. The second said that it was impossible to trust President Obama to actually carry out border enforcement measures if his real agenda here rests with granting legal status to illegals.
In response, reform advocates made points about the current problem being de facto amnesty and pointed to the advantages of strengthening the border and then dealing with the issue of those already here.
Those opposing immigration reform are wrong in terms of the big picture since this is an issue that requires attention and legislation to deal with a problem that won’t go away by itself. But they were right about both the impact of amnesty and the president’s reliability on enforcement. Last summer’s surge of illegals at the Texas border put to rest the notion that there is no connection between talk of granting amnesty and the rate of illegal entries. That is true even if Obama’s measures wouldn’t actually apply to those coming over the border. And now that Obama has single-handedly eviscerated the notion that the rule of law applies to immigration matters, he has handed reform advocates an irrefutable argument that any legislation on the matter is impossible since the president has no credibility on enforcement matters.
Even more to the point, Obama has placed Republican leaders in the position where they must respond to his end run around the Constitution even though there is little likelihood that anything, whether a lawsuit or even selective funding cutoffs that will impact the government’s ability to carry out the amnesty plan (though this is the most promising idea), will stop him from doing whatever he likes until January 2017. That will allow the White House and its media cheering section to label the new Congress as a pack of obstructionists even if the president is the one who has needlessly provoked the argument by going back on his past promises to refrain from acting like an emperor rather than a president.
Thus, the president’s challenges to “pass a bill” aren’t merely unpersuasive. Rather than an effort to prompt needed legislation, they are taunts that are actually intended to foment more obstruction and partisan warfare.
Those who know the country needs a legislative remedy to a broken immigration system knew that the odds were against success even before the president’s moves. But by acting in this manner he has made it certain that no such efforts can possibly succeed in the next Congress and also silenced those who tried to answer the arguments of those opposed to reform. The appropriate response to “Pass a bill” is that the president should try enforcing the law first. Obama has not only damaged the cause of immigration reform, he has done something that seemed impossible a couple of years ago: made anti-immigration advocates look smart.