Sydney M. Williams
Thought of the Day
“The Dream Act by Proclamation”June 18, 2012
A year ago, in a speech to a Hispanic civil rights group, President Obama bemoaned the fact he had to deal with a Congress – perhaps momentarily forgetting which country he was presiding over, when he added: “Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting. I promise you.” Nevertheless, the use of executive orders goes way back. Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase was made by executive order, as was Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Harry Truman used an executive order to integrate the military in 1948. If an executive order is not challenged by Congress within 30 days, it becomes law.
Friday’s order to ease the rules governing young illegal immigrants was President Obama’s 129th executive order. Despite their unilateral nature, such orders are not uncommon. In eight years, George W. Bush issued 291 such orders, while President Bill Clinton issued 363 during his two terms. However, Mr. Obama, a master of ducking responsibility and spreading the blame, blindsided Republican Senator Marco Rubio who had been working on a similar plan. A spokesperson for Mr. Rubio’s office, Alex Conant, on Friday said, “We first heard about it this morning. They [the White House] didn’t ask for any input despite all the work we’ve done on the issue.” In fact, in April, according to an article in Investor’s Business Daily, the White House had “privately urged immigration groups not to back Rubio’s plan but to instead wait for the election.” The problem, the White House maintained, was that Rubio’s plan did not offer a path to citizenship. But, then neither does Mr. Obama’s.
In announcing his plan, the calculating and cynical Mr. Obama, who has deported more illegal immigrants than any other president, said: “This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It is not a permanent fix.” So much for his criticism of Senator Rubio’s plan. Mr. Obama must have worried that nasty Republicans might get credit for helping solve what has become an intractable dilemma – what to do with millions of illegal immigrants residing in this country.
The timing of the President’s action raises questions about his intent, and the fact he did it without consulting Congress raises more questions. The New York Times wrote of his timing: “In many ways, the President’s move was a clear play for a crucial voting bloc in states that will decide whether he gets another term.” The failure to consult Congress, especially when Senator Rubio was working on legislation that would accomplish the same goals, shows a man who puts his bid for reelection ahead of the interests of the country. Certainly, it was a putdown of the bipartisanship he claims to want. In his weekly radio address, recorded on the same day as the executive order, Mr. Obama deplored his inability to work with Republicans in Congress. That failure, this action only confirms, is largely self-inflicted.
Nevertheless, despite my criticism of the means the President employed, I support the notion of granting those who came here as children the right to live, work and study in this country. The parameters laid out by the President are fair: illegal immigrants under the age of 16 who are now under the age of 30, and who have lived here five years with no criminal record should have a right to stay, in my opinion. In fact, the sentiments offered in the President’s speech very closely matched those of the despised President Bush six years earlier: “…yet we must remember that the vast majority of illegal immigrants are decent people who work hard, support their families, practice their faith and lead responsible lives.”
Despite the xenophobia of a few in the Republican Party, many Republicans have long favored a realistic and humane approach to illegal immigration. Again, President Bush in 2006: “It is neither wise nor realistic to round up millions of people, many with deep roots in the United States, and send them across the border.” In signing the Immigration and Reform Act of 1986, President Reagan essentially provided amnesty for an estimated 2.7 million illegal aliens. On May 12, 2006, President George W. Bush, in a speech promoting comprehensive immigration reform, added: “We are a nation of laws, and we must enforce our laws. We’re also a nation of immigrants, and we must uphold that tradition, which has strengthened our nation in so many ways.”
Immigration is a touchy subject. Like entitlement reform, it has become another “third rail” of American politics. It is a subject that needs to be debated intelligently and without evoking emotional responses. While the President’s cause, in my opinion was righteous, making a unilateral decision, the way he did, was a blatantly cynical political move. It was designed to help him with Latino voters in several swing states and to make Republicans appear as prejudiced and reactionary. It was particularly insulting to Senator Marco Rubio, a prominent Latino Republican who had been working on a similar plan in Congress.
The history of our leaders toward immigrants has not always been a proud one. We should never forget President Roosevelt’s refusal to grant thousands of Jewish immigrants’ permission to come to this country as Hitler’s armies were sending millions of Jews to death camps. We are a nation of laws, laws we must uphold, but we are also a nation of immigrants, a heritage of which we should be proud. Like a magnet, we attract those who value freedom and the opportunity to achieve individual success. I find it hard to believe that most Americans support the deporting of an estimated eleven to twelve million illegal immigrants, many of whom came here as children. Enforcing existing laws, expelling those with criminal or terrorist intent, while finding a path to citizenship for the rest, should be a priority of government.
Immigration is an issue on which I differ from many of my peers. In my opinion our immigration laws are too constrained, one of the best examples being laws that send young men and women home upon graduation from an American college or university. We obviously must screen for criminals and terrorists, but today’s technology should make that task easier. We are a large and an energetic nation, made more vital because of the diversity of our people. Immigrants are a key reason. Among Western nations, ours is the only one that continues to enjoy population growth – a condition ultimately necessary for long term economic growth.
Romney’s reaction to the President’s executive order should be weighed carefully, because of the real possibility of unintended consequences. In my opinion, he should agree with the President’s goal, but not the manner in which he accomplished it. At a time of rising nationalism in Europe, fanning the fires of xenophobia at home serves no good purpose.