Latinos should think long and hard before embracing President Obama’s executive action on immigration reform. There is no doubt that immigration reform is long overdue. However, it needs to be done in a lawful manner and through the legislative assembly. That is the way that the Constitution mandates that major issues be resolved in our country.
Obama’s constitutionally questionable presidential decree will not really resolve the immigration status of those facing deportation. Instead, it will further inflame the issue and lead to even more division in America. I fear that in the long term Latinos will be hurt – not helped – by Obama’s go-it-alone act of political expediency.
Early in his administration the President argued forcefully and frequently that he lacked the constitutional authority to act on immigration. Today, on the eve of Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, he suddenly finds the legal justification…and an urgent need to do so.
Most of our Latino forefathers came to America fleeing either political or economic oppression in their native countries. Whether they came from Mexico, Central America, Venezuela or elsewhere, chances are they fled a country where the political institutions were broken and where authoritarian caudillos called the shots. Neither the caudillo nor his arbitrary decretos could ever be called into question.
The beauty of America – and the reason that people flee here in droves – is that we are a nation of laws governed by institutions … not by a caudillo. These institutions were carefully designed to avoid the abuse of power. The Constitution gave Congress the power to enact and rescind laws. The executive branch of government was charged with dutifully enforcing those laws. The judicial branch was tasked with ensuring that neither Congress nor the Executive trespassed on each other, and more importantly, on those rights reserved for individuals. The system was designed to avoid the “royal prerogative,” the abuse of power, foisted upon the colonies by their own caudillo, King James I.
Now President Obama seeks to completely sidestep the authority of Congress. He claims his own executive prerogative. He blames Republicans for the impasse on immigration reform, conveniently forgetting that his party controlled both houses of Congress during the first two years of his administration. He argues that Congress “has failed to act” so he must do so.
Nowhere in the Constitution is Congress mandated to pass any legislation where the political will to do so simply doesn’t exist. Nor is the president authorized to act whenever Congress fails to act on crafting new laws or changing old ones … no matter how frustrating that lack of action may be.
Early in his administration the president argued forcefully and frequently that he lacked the constitutional authority to act on immigration. Today, on the eve of Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, he suddenly finds the legal justification…and an urgent need to do so.
Lawyers who argue that the president has wide discretion on immigration matters are facing resistance from serious legal scholars who insist that the president’s executive decision is a clear violation of the Constitutional requirement (Article II Section Three) that the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”
The legal defense that a broken immigration system and budget constraints compel him to make unilateral decisions threatens the very concept of the rule of law. It opens the door for unbridled presidential power and for selective enforcement.
This is dangerous. This is wrong. This is precisely what the framers of our Constitution sought to avoid. Thoughtful citizens, regardless of party affiliation, race or national origin should think twice before jumping on this executive action bandwagon.
In addition, Latinos should also consider that most Americans are still very wary of immigration reform. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that 48 percent oppose Obama taking executive action on immigration and only 38 percent support it; another 14 percent are unsure or have no opinion.
I don’t believe that Americans are opposed to immigration reform because they hate Latinos. I believe they fear it because they know that previous reform programs failed to secure our national borders … as had been promised them by politicians. Given the increased threats facing the American homeland, the need to secure our borders is no longer just about jobs for migrants or benefits for their children. It is about real-world survival and about holding politicos responsible for their broken promises. Real border security must go hand-in-hand with comprehensive immigration reform.
I would be naïve to think that racism or fears of job security don’t also exist. However, I think it is also naïve for Latinos to believe that we can impose our will on nearly half of the American electorate and hope that an increasingly unpopular, isolated, lame duck president will solve our immigration dilemma. Executive actions can be easily unraveled by a future administration.
If we want real, long-lasting immigration reform, we need to work within the system and within the Constitution. We need to convince skeptics that America will benefit by legalizing our undocumented brothers and sisters. We need to address the necessity of securing our borders and making sure that future immigration is legitimate. We can do this the way it should be done: in the halls of Congress … not by presidential decree.
Finally, I reject the assertion that Republicans oppose immigration reform because Latinos will vote for Democrats. Likewise, I do not think that Democrats have a lock on Latino fealty. Ethnic voting blocks change over time. The midterm election already showed waning Latino support for a president who has disappointed on jobs, on healthcare promises and on many other issues.
Latinos are not monolithic nor are we easily typecast. We are diverse but we are also like all other immigrants … and all other Americans. We want the same thing for our lives and for our children: freedom, economic opportunity and a shot at achieving the American dream. All of us want to be judged on our talents rather than the color of our skin, our accents or where our parents came from.
The political party that offers Latinos the best shot at reaching the American dream will prevail at the polls. However, those who attempt to fast-track that dream by short-circuiting the legislative process, and by ignoring the need to build consensus, will likely find that executive action will simply delay the realization of that dream. Real immigration reform can only come through the people’s rightful representatives in Congress … not through some murky presidential decreto.