WILL OBAMA GRANT AMNESTY BY FIAT?

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The time to pass immigration legislation this year is running out.  In a few weeks the House will go on summer recess.  When it returns after Labor Day it will be in re-election mode and unwilling to pass anything controversial.  So any chance for enactment of a big immigration bill is now slim and fades more with each passing legislative day.  So far the opponents of the Senate bill, which liberalizes immigration more than any reform since 1965, have kept it off the House floor.  Every time Speaker Boehner makes a statement about immigration he betrays his orientation to do what the Chamber of Commerce wants, that is to pass the Senate bill, and gets slapped down by Republicans opposed to the bill.

Sen. Charles Schumer has ominously said that if the House does not pass his type of immigration bill soon, again meaning the Senate bill, “the President will have to act on his own.”  President Obama is being heavily criticized for executive actions which exceed his statutory authority in several areas including granting dozens of waivers to the health care law, the Guantanamo Bay prisoner exchange, the E.P.A. rule on greenhouse gas emissions, and of course, immigration.  Recall the President unilaterally granted work permits to “DREAMers” (young illegal immigrants) two years ago as a political ploy to boost Hispanic turnout for his re-election.  It worked, but Congress had rejected that change in the Immigration and Nationality Act in 2008.  So arguably, Congress could have started the impeachment process if it believed such an action was a “high crime or misdemeanor.”  That phrase is not defined in the Constitution but basically means any offense deemed serious enough to consider removal from office.  Arrogating the power to the change the law to the President from Congress should be an impeachable offense if it’s a very big power grab and occurs over and over again.

If the President does what Sen. Schumer wants and declares that D.H.S. will issue work permits for all illegal immigrants in the country, that would be an arrogation of Executive power on a scale not seen since the Civil War.  It would make the 2012 act seem trivial by comparison, as it affected under a million people.  The House would be justifiably enraged and there would be many calls for impeachment.  It would also be seen as a brazenly political ploy to boost Hispanic turnout for the November midterm elections, which don’t appear to be going the President’s way.

There never was a a broad national demand for the Senate immigration bill.  Immigration comes in fourth or fifth in surveys of national priorities.  So the House’s refusal to pass an immigration law this year reflects the national mood and is not a purely partisan rebuke to the President.  But granting amnesty by fiat, i.e., changing the law in a major way, would be.