The art of the preposterous
“Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms, or are we a nation that values families and works together to keep them together?” Those questions asked by President Obama last month were answered in advance by two of the last three Republican presidents, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, when they issued executive orders that dealt with serious immigration issues.
After major immigration reform had been signed into law by Reagan in 1986, those former presidents’ executive orders were designed to keep millions of affected immigrant families together. When Obama issued his own executive order last month that granted temporary legal status for millions of undocumented foreigners, he was following the clear precedent set by Reagan and Bush. Well, with one significant difference: Reagan’s and Bush’s orders provided amnesty to uncovered spouses and children of those immigrants who had been granted legal status by the 1986 law. Obama’s order doesn’t grant amnesty, despite hordes of right-wing crazies in Congress and on Fox News who incessantly scream that it does. What’s similar among all three executive orders is that they were issued because Congress didn’t fix problems that would otherwise have caused separations through forced deportation of family members that were not covered under the 1986 Act.
“(Here’s) what this deal is,” explained President Obama. “It does not grant citizenship or the right to stay here permanently or offer the same benefits that citizens receive.
Only Congress can do that. All we`re saying is, we`re not going to deport you.”
Yet the inflammatory demagoguery continues to flow from the usual suspects. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a master of hyperbole, falsely referred to the president’s action as executive amnesty. Ironically, Cruz idolizes amnesty provider Reagan!
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla, predicted that the country would “go nuts; … you could see violence!”
Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer called Obama’s order “an impeachable offense,” a “flagrant assault on the Constitution,” and insisted that the idea of prosecutorial discretion was a travesty. These flamboyant insinuations are themselves assaults on truth. Typical of GOP sensationalism, they cite neither laws nor constitutional clauses that Obama supposedly violates.
Penn State University law professor Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, a nationally recognized scholar on immigration law, has articulated a retort to such Krauthammer-type nonsense. On November 20 she told MSNBC what Obama’s reference to prosecutorial discretion actually is. “This is a decision that the … executive branch makes about whether or not to enforce the immigration law against a person or a group of persons,” she said. “So, when the executive branch exercises this discretion favorably through something like deferred action, it`s a temporary reprieve. It does not lead to an independent path of permanent residency.”
The foundation on which Obama’s executive order rests was summarized by former House Judiciary Committee Counsel Julian Epstein: “The president is on very, very solid legal ground. Some Republicans are talking about suing. I think if you listen to what the president was saying about that, he was saying go ahead, make my day if the Republicans want to try to take him to court. The … immigration statute makes it expressly clear … that the Secretary of Homeland Security not only has the discretion for deferred action but has the discretion to grant work permits. This discretion has been validated and acknowledged by the Supreme Court a number of times.”
Two very important points should not be lost when immigration furor continues in earnest next year.
First, the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill by a 68-32 vote almost 1 ½ years ago. It would now be law had not Speaker John Boehner refused to bring it up for a vote. That’s one man failing to do his job, leaving immigration reform in a swamp of stagnation.
Second, Obama has said repeatedly that if Congress passes legislation that properly deals with reform, he’ll sign it and rescind his executive order. It’s a challenge that calls the Republicans’ bluff and further illustrates that they don’t solve problems, they foment them.
Many Republicans claim Obama’s order will jeopardize Congress working with the White House next year. That’s ludicrous, as though the GOP ever had a willingness to collaborate with him! After all, the decision to block anything that he’d propose was taken on January 20, 2009, Obama’s first Inauguration Day, at that secret dinner where they plotted to undermine him by obstructing anything he’d propose. Doing so, they calculated, would eventually lead to their capturing both congressional chambers. It’s clear that they’ve diligently stuck to their plan for six years.
These Republican extremists have effectively changed the old axiom that “politics is the art of the possible” to “politics is the art of the preposterous.”