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House finally acts on immigration reform — yay?


Nevada’s Republican Congressmen Joe Heck and Mark Amodei are famous.

They’re among the 11 Republicans who stood against their party’s majority last week in voting to continue without limitation President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which lets otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants whose parents brought them to America avoid deportation.

“I cannot in good conscience vote to close the door on those individuals who have been given the opportunity to make a life for themselves in the only country they have ever known,” Heck said after the bill passed anyway. Later, addressing a meeting of the Republican Men’s Club, he added: “They have become members of our society,” he said.

His vote — and his comments — are sure to disappoint conservatives and confound critics, who note that Heck voted last year to stop the funding for the deferred-action program. Surely that would have closed the door on the DREAMers? Heck voted against funding because he objected to the executive order that created the program, but that order didn’t change; only Heck’s vote did.

But let’s take him at his word, and give him credit for doing the right thing. Why not? The two bills — one on deferred action, another authorizing $694 million in spending for the crisis of Central American children crossing the Southern border — will sit until the Senate returns next month. Lawmakers will still have to wrestle with the money bill, which provides badly needed funds to deal with the border crisis but also re-writes George W. Bush-era rules about swiftly deporting people from violence-torn Central American countries. Democrats were initially receptive to changing the rules, but later rejected the idea.

Ironically, the same week House Speaker John Boehner led the Republican caucus in voting to authorize a lawsuit against Obama for allegedly exceeding his constitutional authority by delaying a key provision of the Affordable Care Act, Boehner urged Obama to act alone on immigration. “There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action, to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries.” (Again, many of “these children” are fleeing violence in countries that are anything but safe.)

But the ironies don’t end there. Obama, commenting after the House action, said “They’re not even trying to solve the problem. I’m going to have to act alone because we do not have enough resources.” Later, the White House let slip that among the “act alone” options are a massive expansion of the deferred-action program, one that may include the parents of current beneficiaries, anyone closely related to a U.S. citizen or people who have been in the country a long time.

That sounds suspiciously like a plan immigration activists urged on the president in light of the failure of Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration bill, one that would see him cut down radically on deportations, using executive authority alone. But even Obama has said he doesn’t have that power. As UCLA law professor Hiroshi Motomura told the Washington Post in February: “If the president can make a list to prioritize who should be deported first, then I think it’s clear that he can give people at the bottom of that list a piece of paper saying you’re at the bottom. That’s how I think about DACA. It’s clearly within his discretionary power. But if he did this for every single immigrant, he would no longer be exercising his discretion. That would be problematic.”

In fact, that might be a legitimate cause of action in a lawsuit accusing the president of failing to uphold his constitutional duty to see that the laws are faithfully executed.

So, to sum: Heck and Amodei voted the right way on a bill that doesn’t matter, which does nothing to solve a mounting crisis on the border, which prompted Boehner to urge Obama to act unilaterally, even though the House is suing Obama for acting unilaterally, which prompted the president to say he will act unilaterally, but potentially in a way that would make him subject to a legitimate complaint of exceeding his constitutional authority.

It would be comical if it weren’t so tragic.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.