Friday, June 22, 2012

Obama and immigration

Ben and I debate the president's DREAM Act order in this week's column for Scripps. My take:
Obama did a righteous thing. 
Yes, America has a right to defend its borders. And yes, it has the right to deport people who came and lived in our country illegally. 
But it would be morally wrong to deport young people who came to the country as children -- and who, having lived here most of their lives, genuinely understand themselves to be Americans. The sins of the father, after all, should not be visited upon the son. 
In a sane political culture, Congress would have passed a law -- the DREAM Act -- codifying such principles. We do not live in a sane political culture: The last attempt to pass the act, in 2010, won a majority of votes in the Senate, but could not clear a filibuster. (The filibuster is evil, but that's a discussion for another time.) 
So it's disingenuous of people like Rubio to suggest that the president's act made it "harder to find a balanced and responsible long-term solution" about how to let such young people legally live and work here. There has been little indication the Senate was headed toward such a solution, which is one reason why Obama acted. 
Without Congress' stamp of approval, however, Obama's action is imperfect. The next president can reverse it. (Presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney has not said if he would do so.) So it only amounts to a temporary reprieve from the threat of deportation faced by young immigrants. And it does nothing to create a path to citizenship for them. At best, the Obama administration has only made limbo a bit more comfortable for such young folks. 
Congress can still act. It can still permanently resolve the status of young immigrants. Until that happens, the Obama administration's decision not to deport is the best of a bunch of bad options. Better than that: It's righteous.
Ben counters that Obama's act is an "usurpation of congressional authority. Congress makes the rules on immigration and naturalization. Not the president. On that point, the Constitution is clear." Ben is right, and I'm also not sure I care.

Congress also has the power to declare war and to make "make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;" but the last 12 years or so—under both Obama and his predecessor—have seen the executive branch essentially claim those powers as its own, ignoring many of the rules that Congress had already put in place. And Congress didn't really see fit to do anything about it.

So if that's the kind of government we've got—and I'm not really happy about that—then let's use that usurped power for good now and again, why don't we? What the president did was, to my mind, unambiguously good. I'd feel worse about the means of getting there if I thought that we'd get restraint in other important areas.

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