President Barack Obama's decision to legalize by executive order some 5 million people illegally residing in the U.S. invites more than constitutional challenges.
Ultimately, it widens the divisions he promised to heal through polarizing actions he promised never to take. Acting outside constitutional boundaries was one of them. John Kennedy's sage quip that "bad policy makes bad politics," couldn't be more apt here.
The president who only last year refused to suspend deportations, stating he must enforce laws he disagreed with, now does a post-election about-face. Whole sections of federal precedent under Obama's executive order will be ignored to serve a political imperative that overturns laws refined over generations and across every nationality.
Pandering, not protecting, the great national institution entrusted to his care is the stamp and seal of this initiative. Ironically, the greater risk posed by the president's actions is not just to the Constitution, but to immigration itself.
By defying his constitutional obligation to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed," Obama aggravates a system already bursting at the seams.
When his presidency began, unexecuted deportation orders stood at 558,000. Nearly 1 million lie unheeded today as undocumented populations now exceed the 11.6 million here when George W. Bush left office.
Backlogs in immigration courts totaled 186,000 in 2008. Six years later 408,000 await trial. Criminal alien removal — the sworn focus of Obama's smart enforcement set at the Department of Homeland Security — wanes as reports show Immigration and Customs Enforcement released 167,000 convicted foreign nationals back onto American streets, despite court orders directing their removal.
The porous Southwest border admits more than the pining youth of Central America. Criminal groups of every type are more brazen than ever along this 2,000-mile stretch. Dysfunction, if not defiance, is measurable.
America's generous immigration policies prove us a nation uniquely confident in the foreign-born.
Thirteen percent of the U.S. population — just over 40 million people, according to the Census Bureau — were born elsewhere. A staggering 70 million visits from abroad will happen this year alone. One million people will become lawful permanent residents and just under a million more will receive citizenship.
Since 1820, more than 80 million people have left behind lives of want for the prospect of something better on these shores, and that prospect of something better still irresistibly tugs. More than 300,000 students from mainland China — the largest fraction of our 820,000 foreign student population — now study in American universities. Success is measurable, too.
Rather than appeal to this history and seek common ground with his opponents, Obama arrogates authority to write measures that predicate confrontation. No effort to bridge our divides is calculated in this most recent stab at governing. Instead, strategists inside the White House set critical parts of the much-vaunted executive order to expire in three years — less than 12 months after a new president is inaugurated.
Cynically supercharging a presidential election with immigrant populations may be winning politics, but doing it with human lives isn't. There's more here that offends.
By granting Medicare and Social Security access to applicants under the executive order, Obama diminishes those who patiently waited their turn for these benefits and encourages more of the same illegal entry that got us where we are today. Results are predictable. Increased migration past unguarded borders and frail enforcement will only accelerate.
Reaction to the president's gambit reveals significant distrust in his bypassing Congress. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, though, reveals a dynamic that says much about our national viewpoint and more about our national character.
Fully 57 percent of those sampled favored reforms that grant illegal entrants a pathway that is as responsible as it is redemptive — a process, in other words, that both elevates and sanctions. The same poll broadly rejected Obama's shorthand amnesty.
Drafters of the American birth certificate — the Declaration of Independence — complained of a distant British monarchy that ruled by decree rather than by consent. They specified its meddling in immigration among their many charges.
Alexander Hamilton, himself an immigrant, knew well the risks to popular government posed by unlegislated designs. He urged that Congress, not the executive, fix rules for naturalization. These rules we know today as a cornerstone of federal law, the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Rather than resort to its enlightened terms, Obama defaults to a standardless pick-and-choose guaranteed to complicate, not simplify, a system turned upside down by six years of willful neglect.
Democratic processes, while slow and imperfect, build consensus around great questions. They are a certain fix for dictates of temporary and suspect value that churn grievance and deepen division. They're what's missing in the Obama plan that misses so much.
Immigration loses again.