There is a veritable brouhaha brewing between President Obama and the Republican Congress over the President’s threat to engage in unilateral executive action on immigration. Apparently he’s going to issue the order today and deliver a speech to the nation tonight. Of course, the President could have issued this executive order months ago, but was cautioned to hold off by Democrats hoping to retain control of the Senate.
We all know how that worked out.
The belief in political circles is that President Obama will soon issue an executive order to the State Department to defer the deportations of somewhere between 1 million and 4.5 million unauthorized immigrants. (And no, I have no idea why this estimate is so extraordinarily vague.) Those whose deportations are deferred will be eligible for a temporary work permit through a 1987 provision in the Code of Federal Regulations.
First of all, before proceeding further, we should probably define what an executive order is: it’s a directive to a federal officer or agency with respect to some aspect of performance within the jurisdiction of that officer or agency. As it happens, there is no constitutional provision or statute that explicitly permits executive orders. Instead, executive orders have been issued by U.S. Presidents since the time of George Washington, and are part of the implicit power granted to the executive branch. An executive order of the President must be supported either in a clause from the Constitution granting the President that specific power, or by a delegation of power from Congress. Until the early 1900s, executive orders went mostly unannounced and undocumented, seen only by the agencies to which they were directed. Not until 1097 were Executive Orders numbered and cataloged. Franklin Delano Roosevelt went a little bit wild with executive orders, issuing 3,522 of them. More typically, presidents issue several hundred per term.
For months the President had cautioned that he didn’t think he had the authority to issue an executive order on immigration. The Republicans are asking, legitimately, what’s changed? Other than the obvious: the political temperature. It’s a good question, and I personally doubt that the President can accomplish all that he wants to accomplish only through executive action. He apparently does have the authority to tell the State Department to focus their energies elsewhere. But, as some opponents of the President have pointed out, by this logic a Republican President could, in the future, decide not to enforce certain provisions of environmental regulations. It does set a tricky precedent, I believe.
The Republicans have repeatedly let the President know that unilateral action would be “like waiving a red flag in front of a bull.” This would be “poisoning the well.” Speaker Boehner has cautioned the President not to “play with fire” or he will get burned. It seems that the President is banking on the Republicans overreacting, so that the Democrats can once again separate themselves from the Republicans on the issue of immigration. It is the political calculus in Democratic circles that this will serve to solidify the Hispanic vote for the 2016 election cycle, in which minorities and women are expected to turn out in exactly the numbers that they did not turn out for 2014.
Really guys, is this the best that we can do?
To be fair to the President, the Republicans have refused to cooperate with him since the day he came into office, on immigration, on universal health, or on pretty much any other issue, because they did not want the President to get the “credit” for any positive initiative.
They apparently never heard of sharing the credit.
If they had, maybe the American public would have a higher opinion of Congress than they do, where they rank behind used car salesmen and ambulance-chasing trial attorneys in terms of trustworthiness or job approval.
The Daily Show nails the whole immigration issue in this video clip from 11/17/2014. (Apologies for the ad before the clip, but it can’t be avoided.) The best part is the end of the clip — about 8 minutes in — where Jon Stewart parodies the claim of a fool’s parade of conservative pundits that President Obama has been “shredding” the Constitution.