“Now I know some people want me to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own,” President Barack Obama said during a speech last July. His crowd, a conference of Hispanic activists, interjected, “Yes you can! Yes you can!”
“That’s not how our democracy functions,” the president answered back. “That’s not how our Constitution is written.”
Then he quipped, “Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting, I promise you.”
The president felt strongly about offering amnesty to illegal immigrants, and he certainly had a sympathetic crowd—one apparently more concerned about their special interest than about the Constitution of the United States of America. Yet he still pointed out that he “swore an oath to uphold the laws on the books.”
As a candidate in 2007, Senator Obama often touted his constitutional credentials. “I was a constitutional law professor,” he said at one fundraiser, “which means, unlike the current president, I actually respect the Constitution.”
That means that when Americans elected Barack Obama to be the 44th president of the United States, they were getting a man who would uphold the Constitution, using his executive power to enforce the law, but also honoring the checks and balances of legislative and judicial power. Right?
Last Friday, the president stood in the White House Rose Garden and said, in effect, Since Congress hasn’t given me the immigration law I want, I’m just going to enforce my own immigration policy.
“Using his executive powers to go where Congress would not, President Obama … ordered his administration to stop deporting illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, a shift that could affect more than 1 million people,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
Now, a two-year renewable reprieve on deportation is available to undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, who are younger than 31 years, who crossed the border before they were 16 years old, who have no criminal record, and who are students or graduates or have served in the military. Without documentation, it seems much of this would be hard to prove. But no matter. These people, President Obama said, are “Americans in their hearts.”
The president called the order a “temporary, stop-gap measure” that was necessary only because Congress hadn’t passed the comprehensive immigration reform he was looking for.
Immigration is a serious and complicated issue. There are persuasive arguments for the order the president made, and many people expressed joy and gratitude at seeing it enacted. But there is another side to the debate. Illegal immigration is connected to economic problems, violent crime, drug trafficking and national security risks. True, those who benefit from this presidential order probably do not contribute to these problems. Even still, critics point to concerns that these immigrants will squeeze out the educational and career aspirations of legal American citizens who are already finding it hard to get a good education or a good job.
The point is, there is a process in American government by which such debate gets aired en route to the formation of public policy. In this case, it is through Congress, America’s lawmaking body.
The federal legislature has not ignored the raging argument over illegal immigration. In fact, Congress debated the issue in what is known as the dream Act. That bill would have put many illegal immigrants on the track to full legal residency. But it was defeated. According to the constitutional principle of representative government, that decision reflected the will of the American people. Obviously, defeating that legislation did not solve the problem or end the debate. That is still wide open.
It is not as though Congress has done nothing. It just hasn’t done what President Obama wanted.
Where Congress has the power to make laws, the president and the executive branch have the power to enforce them. Now the president is choosing to enforce his own policy instead of the actual law. You can make the law, he basically said, but I’ll enforce what I want.
This comes less than a year after the president emphasized to Hispanics that the law of the land must be upheld no matter what. This is the same president who “swore an oath to uphold the laws on the books.”
Serious problems are emerging from America’s lax approach to illegal immigration. But what is of even graver concern is the president’s dangerous approach to the Constitution.
Candidate Obama often criticized then President George W. Bush for expanding presidential powers. “These last few years we’ve seen an unacceptable abuse of power at home,” he said in October 2007. “We’ve paid a heavy price for having a president whose priority is expanding his own power.” Yet the Obama administration has issued even more executive orders than its predecessor.
Obama has acted unilaterally to abandon the Defense of Marriage Act, which is still a law, but which the executive branch is ordered not to defend. He declared that Congress was in recess in order to avoid having to seek its approval for a controversial executive appointment. He again bypassed Congress in order to join the nato mission in Libya. Other executive measures include orders for a summer jobs program, new rules for mortgage lenders, and minimum-wage protections for certain workers.
And these executive orders don’t begin to include the federal government’s growing control over the private sector through a series of bank and corporate bailouts, or its foray into health-care mandates.
Even though President Obama has enjoyed Democrat majorities in both houses of Congress and still enjoys a majority in the Senate, he has still ignored the legislative branch and at times acted against it outright in order to get what he wants.
In this case, the president is clearly pushing aside “how our democracy functions” and “how our Constitution is written” in order to prioritize his own reelection. Giving a million Hispanics a form of amnesty is a surefire way to boost popularity among the increasingly powerful Hispanic vote, just shortly before November’s election. According to polls, it has already worked. Hispanics who were not as enthusiastic about Obama as they were in 2008 are getting fired up again.
America’s founders fought and died in order to build a nation on godly principles and to prevent a tyrant from ruling over them. The Constitution was expressly written to safeguard those principles and protect the future of the nation.
The present leaders have repeatedly shown light regard for that foundational document—casting it aside for the mere possibility of political gain. The rule of law is being rapidly eroded—replaced by the rule of men, acting however they see fit.
What else might they do in order to hold on to power? Stay tuned. “Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting, I promise you.”