Back in 2011, President Barack Obama said this about the possibility of using executive action to legalize illegal immigrants: “there are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we enforce our immigration system that for me to simply through executive order ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president.” For years, proposals to grant legal status to illegal immigrants have been introduced in Congress, because everyone believed that Congress was the body that would need to take such an action. Indeed, Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution gives to Congress the authority “To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization.”
Today, Barack Obama is singing a different tune. Over the weekend, Obama told Chuck Todd of NBC that he wants “a system where the millions who are here…have a path to get legal.” Obama also told Todd that the Senate bill on immigration reflected a bipartisan consensus, and that he wasn’t going to let the House of Representatives thwart that supposed consensus. Instead, he plans to take executive action, although not until after the upcoming congressional elections. Many observers believe that Obama is delaying issuing an executive order legalizing at least some of “the millions who are here” in order to help Democrats retain the Senate. However, Obama told Todd that “what I want to do, when I take executive action, I want to make sure that it’s sustainable.”
Significantly, Todd did not ask any question about where Obama gets the authority to legalize millions of illegal aliens with a stroke of the presidential pen, despite the opposition of the House of Representatives and of the majority of Americans whose views the House of Representatives reflects in this matter. Instead, what Todd focused on was Obama’s decision to delay executive action from Labor Day until after the congressional elections: “What do you tell the person that’s going to be deported before the election that this decision was essentially made in your hopes of saving a Democratic Senate?” Apparently, the only question worth discussing is how best to enable those who came to America illegally to stay. Of course, if Todd had asked Obama where he got the authority he plans to use after the election, it’s hard to imagine an answer from Obama that would be much different in substance from George W. Bush’s “I’m the decider".
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.