Editors Note: This is one part of a two part debate series. Click here to see the opposing point of view.
By Simon McMurchie
Catlin Speak (Portland, Oregon)
On Nov. 20, in a speech to the American public, President Barack Obama announced his plans to change U.S. policy on immigration. Citing a lack of progress on immigration reform from Congress, the President declared that the changes would be made by executive order.
The President outlined his plan in three points: “First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over. Second, I’ll make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed; Third, we’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country.”
Though there has been vivacious debate over the enacted policies, much of the criticism of the President’s move has concerned his use of the executive order. Though it has a long history in American politics, the legal (and political) justification for the action is hotly contested. CatlinSpeak asked two staff members to discuss their opinions on the issue as opponent and proponent.
Everybody, regardless of party, thinks the immigration system in the United States is broken. On the extremes of the political spectrum there are, unsurprisingly, extreme opinions of what to do about it. However, the President’s newly announced policies shouldn’t be considered a strong statement against the GOP.
Still, the need for bipartisan legislation is stronger than ever in the polarized politics of today, and the President’s actions only serve to anger and alienate the restless Republican Party. The executive orders announced in his speech represent a step beyond the President’s power, and were a mistake, as he moves into a final two years with a fully Republican congress.
The President’s move has been expected for months, but it was believed that such a politically divisive decision was put off in advance of the midterm elections. Unsurprisingly, Republicans have been unwavering in their criticisms of the President’s move.
Speaker of the House John Boehner told reporters, “We will not stand idle as the President undermines the rule of law in our country.” In an interview, Senator Ted Cruz (R), not one for understatement, said that the President’s move, “threatens the liberty of every American.”
Despite protests from some in the GOP, there is unease among party leaders who understand the importance of the Hispanic in advance of the 2016 presidential election. “Republicans in Congress understand that a majority of Americans and a majority of Republicans believe we have a seriously broke immigration system that needs to be fixed and they’ve understood that for a long time,” said Whit Ayres, a prominent GOP campaign strategist in an interview with the Fiscal Times.
Mitt Romney only received 27% of the Hispanic vote in 2012, compared to George W. Bush’s 40% in 2004. Some GOP leaders fear that strong opposition to Obama’s plan will alienate an important block of voters. Indeed, a Gallup poll showed a 12% jump in approval rating for the President from Hispanics in the weeks following the announcement of his plan.
His use of executive order, though, is not a partisan issue. In his speech, the President referenced past use of executive order by other presidents both Democratic and Republican. The FiveThirtyEight blog published an article after the speech showing that there has indeed been a fair amount from both sides of the aisle, though it has become less popular in the decades since the New Deal. However, what makes the President’s move unique is not the fact that it is an executive order, but rather the scope of the order itself.
A recent New York Times report detailed a study completed by a committee led by the head of Homeland Security, Jeh C. Johnson, of the legal limits of the President’s office. Johnson’s team was told to use, “legal authorities to their fullest extent,” by the White House. The final product was indeed significant in the level of change enacted.
Republicans are unsure of how they would respond to the move even if it is eventually deemed illegal; a few have raised the possibility of suing the president, or enforcing another government shutdown, though party leaders are worried about alienating Hispanic voters ahead of the 2016 election.
Still, even if the President’s move is legally justified, there is a fair criticism on a moral level of the move. The executive office wasn’t designed to create and enforce large-scale legislation. Instead, the balance of power promoted by the Constitution specifically attempts to outlaw such actions.
Through his move on immigration, President Obama has made a clear attempt to push the limits of his power in office. Though one could claim that it is a necessary action in light of Congress’s failures, such a belief forgives the means for an end. Americans must not forgive the actions of a President simply because they agree with his intent. Democrats and Republicans alike should instead call for a more effective Congress in place of a President who attempts to push his policies on the American people.
Photo Credit: rickpilot_2000