Shortly after Barack Obama’s inauguration, rumors began spreading in the immigration-restrictionist movement that the President would attempt to accomplish the “comprehensive immigration reform” that Congress had denied his predecessor by imposing it on the country through executive order. Now he has used his claimed executive powers to announce a partial amnesty for young illegal immigrants by implementing many of the provisions of the so-called Dream Act that has been defeated repeatedly in Congress in recent years. Obamnesty permits the children of illegal immigrants between the ages of 16 and 29 who have lived in the United States for five years; have no criminal record; and are at present in school, have graduated from high school, or are military veterans in good standing with society to remain in the United States without threat of deportation, apply for work permits, and receive driver’s licenses and other documents after declaring themselves to the authorities, though without being granted permanent legal status as the Dream Act would do. This “temporary stopgap measure,” as the President described it, would “lift the shadow of deportation from these [estimated 800,000] young people,” while making immigration policy “more fair, more efficient and more just.” “They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper,” he added. In fact, all that can be said of them with certainty is that their spokesmen are noisy and insistent community activists in the tradition of Barack Obama himself.
The Republican Party has responded by accusing the President of having executed an end run around Congress, and there is talk of filing suit in federal court against his order. The White House claims it is on solid legal ground. Not being a constitutional-law scholar, I recognize that my own opinion regarding the issue is relatively uninformed. My guess is, however, that the same can be said of this decision by the former professor of constitutional law in the Oval Office, no matter what encouragement he may have received from his advisors. What is certain is that Obama’s conferral of “‘rights’ out of thin air,” as Thomas Sowell has described this ploy, typifies his characteristically ad hoc approach to perennial national problems. “People,” Sowell notes, whether illegal immigrants looking for work or employers considering hiring them, “cannot plan their lives on the basis of laws that can suddenly appear, and then suddenly disappear, in less than a year. To come forward today and claim the protection of the Obama Executive Order is to declare publicly and officially that your parents entered the country illegally. How that may viewed by some later administration is anybody’s guess.”
Everyone, including the beneficiaries of the President’s political largesse, recognizes that Obamnesty comes not from the goodness of Obama’s heart but from crass political calculation arising from the Chief Executive’s need to win the Hispanic vote in November. All may be fair in love and politics. But President Obama’s resort to crude political force on so large and delicate a national issue as immigration policy represents a brutal dropping of the mask of political amity and bipartisanship that he wore during the 2008 campaign and into the first year of his presidency. War is politics by other means, as the saying goes, and Obama’s action is a declaration of war on the opposition and, hence, an admission of his own political ineptitude.
Still, President Obama may have his way in the end, even if his victory proves, in a political sense, a posthumous one. Obama’s hand was forced in part by a similar plan being developed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is widely considered a possible vice-presidential choice by Mitt Romney. Romney himself reacted cautiously to the President’s amnesty, taking care to criticize only its economic implications in terms of the reduced number of jobs available to legal workers. Then, after considering an appropriate response for several days, he announced to a meeting of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials that, as President, he would replace and “supersede” Obama’s order by a “long-term solution of his own”—a decision that Rubio duly approved.
The restrictionists’ 50-year-long battle against mass immigration and its social, cultural, and political consequences has already been lost. Amnesty for 800,000 (some say one million) illegal immigrants assures a subsequent explosion of chain migration that will add millions more foreigners to the U.S. population over the next few years. (Romney, in his address to NALEO, promised to remove present caps limiting the admission of spouses and minor children of permanent legal immigrants.) But, supposing even that not a single immigrant, legal or otherwise, were allowed into the country over the next quarter-century, enough have already entered to ensure that the social composition and identity of the United States have been forever changed, and that the population will have become a majority Third World nation within another generation. In this respect, Barack Obama’s executive order changes nothing. Neither would a Romney administration for the next four years, nor an indefinite series of Republican administrations after his.