If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, what is the destination for the road paved with bad intentions? Federal Court, it seems.
President Obama’s action on immigration reform – granting temporary legal status to millions of illegal immigrants – was an overreach of his authority, and worse, intended to create a political fight rather than a policy solution. After insisting for six years that the only path forward was a huge “comprehensive” law, Obama dropped a dozen incremental White House memorandums in late November. Then it ran into a little problem called the Law. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen suspended the Obama actions until a federal lawsuit, filed by 26 states, is resolved.
The President made two mistakes in taking executive action. First was a simple overreach of his authority. He has no right to make a carpet grant of legal status, let alone issue work permits to people in the country illegally. Second was choosing to wage partisan warfare over an issue that has been begging for compromise leadership. The one thing Obama has on his side is economics – granting legal status to migrant workers will, in fact, be good for the U.S. economy, for immigrants, and even for American citizens.
Why did the President never offer his incremental reforms as legislation? Why not consult with Congress? Why not compromise? Why make the legal status a temporary three years? Why, at every turn, frame the issue as a partisan impasse and blame Republicans? The answer is that the White House is driven by politics. It has consistently used false choices and red herrings when discussing immigration. Now the double talk is being exposed.
At the crux of this issue is the idea of granting a work permit to migrants. A work permit is the middle ground compromise — it’s not deportation (obviously) nor is it a path to citizenship. Those latter two options are the false choices constantly debated over the past decade. Ironically, when comprehensive reform was considered in Congress in 2007, Senator Barack Obama was among the many Democrats who stripped the work visa idea from the legislation in order to poison the consensus. They wanted to keep the fight going, to polarize the electorate rather than change policy. And he infuriated Ted Kennedy.
Now the migrant work permit is the centerpiece of Obama’s overreach. It’s one thing to defer action and not deport a man. It’s altogether a different to have the machinery of government produce a work permit for that man. The White House wants the media to believe that spending hundreds of millions of dollars processing paperwork and issuing work permits is a blanket non-action, but it’s an unbelievable fiction. Judge Hanen knows it, and he knows that once the work permits were issued it would create an impossible mess. He was right to stop it before the case is fully resolved, and the White House is insincere to pretend it’s no big deal.
The White House rationale for executive action has been its “limited resources.” But on Christmas day, the New York Times reported that DHS “was immediately seeking 1,000 new employees to work in an office building to process ‘cases filed as a result of the executive actions on immigration.’ The likely cost: nearly $8 million a year in lease payments [for a new operations center just outside of Washington, DC] and more than $40 million for annual salaries.” Limited resources is such a flimsy excuse.
The shame of it is that immigration is an issue ripe for compromise and consensus. If the President would have offered to work with Congress on legislation that rejects the false deportation-vs-citizenship choice, and instead offered legal status & work visas, we would be talking about the very real benefits of immigration to the U.S. economy. The President could have chosen to appear shoulder to shoulder with George W. Bush in a joint call for compromise – like Ted Kennedy once did with Bush on education reform. Obama could cite a dozen, or a hundred, Republican leaning economists who support work permits for migrants; support green cards for engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs; support streamlining the DHS; and even support allowing more than a million new legal immigrants to come to the United States each year. Here’s my own case for greater immigration.
Is it too late for Obama to offer bi-partisan compromise? I sure hope not. Or has that whole “post-partisan” road been a fiction, too?