The papers tell us that President Obama “still intends to act on his own to change immigration policy,” though he’s no longer sure just when he’ll do this. In this case his dithering may make some kind of sense. Perhaps he realizes that he might be making a big mistake by going ahead.
If all we had on immigration was a policy subject to the president’s direction, he would be free to change it any time he wants. But we don’t have an immigration policy. Instead we have immigration laws, which are widely ignored. The president’s choice is not whether to pursue this or that policy, but whether to try to enforce the laws.
Enforcing the laws is easier said than done, obviously. When millions of people ignore or sidestep the laws, strictly enforcing them becomes impossible except in a small percentage of cases. (It’s the same with the federal marijuana law.)
What, actually, has Obama been considering? The Los Angeles Times in July summarized the possibilities. The paper said he could step up deportations of the children that have been thronging the southern border, but — and this is more likely — he could also prevent deportations of many immigrants already here.
One option, the paper said, is to allow parents of children born in the U.S. to apply for “temporary legal status” so they could legally work. This would affect an estimated 5 million people. Another option is to give temporary legal status to the parents of those young people brought to the U.S. as children to whom Obama granted “deferred deportation” status in 2012. This might affect about 500,000 adults. Either or both would probably act like a magnet for additional millions seeking to immigrate without benefit of formalities. So even though these sound like reasonable steps, they could make the problem worse.
And if the law does not provide for such a change in status, how can the president impose it on his own without violating his oath? Better to do nothing about illegal immigrants than to have the president further weaken the constitutional foundation on which our government rests. (hh)