Published July 29, 2011
This week President Obama told the National Council of La Raza that he can’t get illegal alien amnesty legislation passed because Republicans oppose it, “so let's be honest I need a dance partner here. And the floor is empty.” Ok Mr. President, let’s be honest. Amnesty is already underway.
Its been occurring ever since the President realized the public had no appetite for illegal alien legislation, and he decided, instead, to launch a covert end-run around Congress using administrative actions to piecemeal what he can’t do all at once in a big amnesty bill.
For the past two years, a steady stream of leaked memos reveal how the administration has expanded its amnesty-granting powers. The title of one United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) memo says it all, Administrative Alternatives to Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Not surprisingly, the memo suggests ways the government can delay or even prevent the removal of illegal aliens.
The early memos written by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton suggest granting relief to select aliens on a case-by-case basis; later memos detail large classes of deportable aliens for whom the law should be waived. The most recent memo grants broad prosecutorial discretion to ICE field agents and attorneys urging them not to bother with illegal aliens who are young, have been here a long time or who are students - in other words, would-be beneficiaries of the DREAM Act legislation which died in December and which has little hope of being revived.
Law enforcement has always been granted a degree of latitude in how it applies the law but the new ICE guidelines cross the line between discretion needed to do the job and wholesale administrative substitutes for legislative logjams. In his recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Chris Crane, President of the ICE Union, warned Congress that, “law enforcement and public safety are no longer the priority at ICE; politics are the priority at ICE.”
By stipulating that large classes of illegal aliens are to be exempt from enforcement, ICE is conferring power upon itself. It’s Congress’s job to make laws and define an agency’s role. It is the job of ICE to carry out the laws Congress enacted regarding immigration enforcement.
Using executive powers is tempting, to be sure. The business of getting things done legislatively is slow and messy; it requires bills, committees, hearings, markups and passage of both the House and Senate. And of course, public opinion can bring things to a dead stop. Evidently, this administration has concluded it can more expeditiously satisfy the illegal alien special interests by having the Department of Homeland Security and ICE issue memos telling field agents and trial attorneys to simply drop cases and stop deportations. When it concerns immigration policy, the legislative process and the constitutional separation of powers appears to be inconveniences that can be worked around for this president.
Fortunately, this abuse of power is not lost on the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) who has introduced the “Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation Act” or the “HALT Act” (H.R. 2497). The bill would prevent the administration from further abusing its prosecutorial discretion to grant administrative amnesty to large classes of illegal aliens. Specifically, it would suspend the Obama administration’s ability to:
- Grant deferred action to illegal aliens;
- Grant parole or extended voluntary departure to illegal aliens who do not meet narrowly defined criteria;
- Cancel the removal and adjust the status of illegal aliens ordered deported; and
- Grant work authorization to illegal aliens.
While passing the HALT Act won’t stop this president from pursuing a massive and costly amnesty for 13 millions illegal aliens, it will force him to do so legislatively, with transparency, and within the context of the Constitution. Most importantly, it will allow the American public to participate in the process.
The next time the President is addressing one of his powerful special interests groups, instead of fretting over not getting amnesty legislation passed – perhaps he should be forthright and take credit for actually getting it done with backdoor tactics. He deserves the credit, but of course, the methods used to get it done would then be a matter of public record.
Maybe better the wink and the nod.
Bob Dane is Communications Director for FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Kristen Williamson is Communications Assistant for FAIR.