When Barack Obama issued an order last week that will allow some undocumented immigrants to say in the United States without fear of prosecution, people generally supported it or opposed it based on the way they see the issue of immigration. Those who favor fewer restrictions on immigration welcomed the order. Those who don’t really like immigration denounced it.
The more I think about it, the more I think the immigration debate is completely secondary to the real issue. No matter whether you favor immigration or oppose it — for whatever your reasons — you should be afraid of this order, because it’s a very blunt statement by a sitting U.S. president that he can ignore laws that he doesn’t like.
Tomorrow, we expect the U.S. Supreme Court to issue its ruling about the constitutionality of key provisions of ObamaCare. If the court strikes down the law as unconstitutional, what’s to stop Obama from using the same principle he used with immigration and simply say he won’t abide by the law as interpreted by the court?
Now let’s look at the opposite case. Let’s say that the court upholds ObamaCare on Thursday. Then let’s say that Mitt Romney is elected president in November. Why couldn’t he simply issue an order for his administration to ignore the health care reform laws if he wanted to? How would that be any different from what Obama has done?
I happen to favor unlimited immigration and open borders. To me, a border is just an imaginary line on a map that politicians made up. But I’m not the president of the United States. I’m not the one who swore an oath to faithfully execute the laws of a government. If he wants the job — and he believes the system is moral enough to be a part of — doesn’t he have a responsibility to obey the laws? Doesn’t any president have that responsibility?
What if a President Romney (or some future conservative president) decides he doesn’t like environmental laws? Can he simply issue an order to quit enforcing those laws? Using Obama’s principle, what is to stop any president from obeying only the laws he likes?
Obama knows that he doesn’t have the legal authority to do what he’s doing. I’m not saying that because I can read his mind. I’m saying that because I can read his words. This is what he said about immigration on March 28, 2011:
“With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations of immigrants brought here illegally as children through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed.”
Somehow, this former law professor “found” the right to do exactly that just 15 months later. That “living Constitution” thing is terribly convenient, isn’t it?
Whether you favor more immigration or less, you need to be very afraid of the precedent that Obama is setting here. This isn’t very far removed from an imperial presidency where one man rules by fiat. The fact that more mainstream politicians and commentators aren’t upset about this says a lot about just how far the rule of law has fallen here into disrespect.
I’m afraid of a world where one man rules — whoever the man is. I hope you are, too.