Addressing the National Council of La Raza in 2011, President Barack Obama said it was “tempting” to bypass Congress on immigration. “But,” he quickly added, “that’s not how our system works; that’s not how our democracy functions; that’s not how our Constitution is written.”
Today the president is singing a different tune, vowing to ignore Congress and unilaterally grant administrative amnesty to as many as 5 million illegal immigrants via “executive action.” Last week, the White House’s 10-point plan was leaked to Fox News and The New York Times. Mr. Obama, it seems, is determined to disregard the limits of presidential power and plunge our nation into a constitutional crisis.
The president argues, in essence, that because Congress hasn’t passed legislation granting amnesty to illegal immigrants, he has no choice but to ram it through on his own. In addition to flouting the democratic process and undermining the rule of law, this autocratic course of action will actually encourage yet another wave of illegal immigration — worsening rather than relieving the problem.
For lawmakers truly interested in fixing our immigration system, the Heritage Foundation has just released a 10-step “Checklist for Revitalizing America’s Immigration System” that is far different from the president’s 10-step plan.
It starts with eliminating all executive actions and regulations that bar U.S. immigration officers from enforcing immigration laws on the books. Over the past six years, the Department of Homeland Security has issued a series of policy memorandums that direct immigration officers to apply the law only to illegal immigrants who meet certain “enforcement priorities.” Few do.
This leaves our immigration officers in a tough and highly frustrating spot. They have sworn to uphold the nation’s laws, but their president, secretary and director are telling them to ignore their duty. Instead, they are pressured to rubber stamp applications and follow procedural gimmicks that ensure most of those they arrest for violating immigration laws are never deported. Ending “catch and release” enforcement is essential to restoring integrity to our immigration system.
Next, we must improve border security with targeted investments in infrastructure and technology. Fences aren’t silver bullets, but better and more fencing can make it easier to deter, slow down and catch border crossers. This can be augmented through expanded use of technology along the border. Drones, wide-area surveillance systems, sensors and other technologies can monitor the border and give the Border Patrol better, faster, actionable information to help them secure the border.
Immigrants who elude the Border Patrol or overstay their visas should not get off scot free. To deter this illegal behavior, we must enforce the law in the nation’s interior. Eliminating counterproductive executive memos and regulations is an important first step. But states must be allowed to assist the feds in enforcing the law.
The Obama administration now actually sues state and local agencies that try to enforce immigration law, arguing that their efforts don’t match federal “enforcement priorities.” On the other hand, states that enact sanctuary policies are praised, not sued — even though some of those policies are in direct conflict with federal law. This must change.
The chances of President Obama taking these steps and others outlined in Heritage’s special report appear to be slim to none. Yet this is the standard to which the American people and Congress should hold him. If and when President Obama moves in the opposite direction — he’s expected to do so today — Congress should reject his lawlessness, using all the tools at its disposal, including the power of the purse.
Polling and the midterm election results show that a large majority of Americans disapprove of the president’s call for amnesty. They don’t want him to give in to the temptation to ignore Congress and our democratic process. Instead, they’d like to see his administration faithfully administer our nation’s laws, including those governing our immigration system.
David Inserra is a research associate at The Heritage Foundation, specializing in homeland security and cybersecurity issues.