In the wake of a disastrous midterm election for the Democratic Party, President Obama has declared that he will use executive actions to protect up to 5 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States from deportation. Four million individuals who have resided in the U.S. for at least five years will be allowed to apply for work permits, while an additional 1 million immigrants will be covered by an expansion of existing legislation including a program for so-called "Dreamers." The proposed executive action also has its limitations: farm workers and parents of Dreamers will not be protected, and none of the five million will be eligible for health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.
In spite of what some immigration activists have denounced as the relatively conservative nature of the president’s proposal, Republicans have taken umbrage at actions that will circumvent the authority of Congress. Prominent members of the GOP, including Speaker of the House John Boehner and presumed Senate Majority Leader-elect Mitch McConnell have vociferously opposed the plan on constitutional and political grounds. Though Obama’s proposal is doubtless controversial and far-reaching, it does have precedent in executive actions by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, then much less controversial.
Nevertheless, in this particular instance we are forced to side with Republicans in Congress. We wholeheartedly believe in immigration reform and the creation of a pathway to citizenship, but we also believe in doing so through a more conventional legislative process.
Particularly in the aftermath of an election in which Americans overwhelmingly supported Republican candidates, the president should not subvert the authority of Congress in using executive actions to overhaul our nation’s immigration system. Doing so would set a dangerous precedent for future executive actions of this magnitude, especially in the face of apparent voter disapproval. Obama's plan would only heighten the feeling of mutual distrust that exists at present between Democrats and Republicans.
We also take issue with the president’s proposed use of prosecutorial discretion on such a large scale. The Executive Branch has a duty to uphold the law, and Obama’s executive actions are clearly in contravention of the spirit of existing immigration legislation. Granting reprieve to millions of individuals through prosecutorial discretion alone smacks of a willful disregard for the law.
Our country is suffering under the burden of outdated and inhumane immigration policies, but we have elected a Congress that is unwilling to act. Now is the time for the American people to reflect upon the plight of undocumented immigrants, not for hasty executive actions that imperil the sanctity of the law.