President Obama recently declared from the White House that he is effectively rewriting our immigration laws on his own terms. Under his sweeping executive edicts, President Obama has proclaimed that five million unlawful immigrants can live and work here legally, redefined who is a priority for immigration enforcement, and gutted the interior enforcement of our immigration laws. These unilateral actions have created an untold number of consequences, affecting our Republic, the American people, legal immigrants, and the integrity of our immigration system.
President Obama’s decision to recklessly forge ahead with a plan to unilaterally change our immigration laws creates a constitutional crisis.
The Constitution clearly states that it’s Congress’ job to write our laws and the President’s duty to enforce them. Moreover, the Constitution says that “the Congress shall have the Power to … establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization.”
By allowing five million unlawful immigrants to live and work here through executive action, President Obama ignores the limitations placed on his authority and claims legislative power for himself. These actions threaten to unravel our government’s system of checks and balances and imperil individual liberty.
Many of the president’s actions needlessly endanger our communities. President Obama claims he is taking executive action to prioritize immigration enforcement to focus on criminal aliens, yet the loopholes contained in the Obama administration’s new enforcement priority guidelines ensure that no one is actually a guaranteed priority for removal.
Due to the ambiguous and unworkable language in the administration’s guidelines, criminal aliens such as terrorists, gang members, drug traffickers, drunk drivers, sexual abusers, and other felons could stay here if there are “compelling or exceptional factors” – or in some instances, simply “factors” – warranting their release.
And the recklessness doesn’t just end there. President Obama has scrapped a congressionally-mandated tool that identifies criminal aliens booked in jails across the United States so that federal law enforcement officials can prioritize their removal.
Secure Communities, created in 2008, is a simple and successful program to identify criminal aliens once arrested and jailed. It protects Americans from public safety threats and those who could be a danger to their communities. Instead of continuing to utilize this successful existing system that is required and appropriated by Congress, the Obama administration will implement a new, untested program called the “Priorities Enforcement Program.”
Under the new screening program, the Obama administration ignores some of its own enforcement priorities for the purposes of processing aliens for removal and turns a blind eye to most unlawful immigrants booked in jails across the United States. Additionally, the Obama administration permits sanctuary city policies by effectively leaving states and localities with the choice of whether or not to comply with the federal government’s requests for notification about criminal aliens booked in their jails.
President Obama’s new legalization program for unlawful immigrants also unfairly punishes legal immigrants playing by the rules and seeking to come to the U.S. the right way.
As U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services shifts attention and resources to the processing of applications for unlawful immigrants, legal immigrants will face longer wait times for their petitions to be processed. This was true under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has allowed over 600,000 unlawful immigrants to stay here so far.
With over five million unlawful immigrants standing to benefit from President Obama’s new executive decree, legal immigrants will only face longer wait times, even though they’ve already paid the fees to have their applications processed.
Furthermore, President Obama’s actions open the floodgates to another wave of illegal immigration.
In the past, our nation has witnessed the surge in illegal immigration that comes when amnesty is promised and the enforcement of our immigration laws is ignored. This was true after the 1986 immigration overhaul and the implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in the summer of 2012, which encouraged hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied minors, family units, and adults to flood our borders.
Ironically, although President Obama has stated in the past that these individuals will be sent home, under his new enforcement priorities, if they came here before January 1, 2014 – which many of them did – they will likely be able to stay.
Additionally, since the Obama administration has not deemed immigration-related crimes a priority for enforcement – such as identity theft, document fraud, and refusing to comply with removal orders – this sends the message that breaking our immigration laws and committing crimes that often follow illegal entry are permissible. Collectively, the president’s actions undermine the integrity of our immigration system.
I, and many other members of Congress, want to reform our nation’s immigration system. But the president’s decision to act on his own and ignore the enforcement of our immigration laws is not the right way to do it.
These unilateral immigration actions are a danger to our Constitution, communities, and immigration system and must be stopped.
The House Judiciary Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over our nation’s immigration laws, will fight President Obama’s unconstitutional actions and will shine light on and correct the Obama administration’s anti-enforcement policies.
Republican Bob Goodlatte represents Virginia's 6th congressional district in the House of Representatives. He is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over intelligence-gathering programs operated under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.