Debate Forum: 02/24

Debate Center: Who’s in charge here, anyway?

By Sarah Sidlow

A coalition of 26 states led by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Texas has temporarily blocked President Barack Obama’s November executive orders on immigration. This move, which the White House has promised to appeal, will give the states time to pursue a lawsuit aiming to permanently stop the orders.

The first of Obama’s orders, to expand a program that would protect immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally from deportation, would have taken effect last week. The other major component of the order, which would have extended deportation protections to parents of U.S. citizens and those who have been in the country for a number of years, was not expected to begin until mid-May.

The executive order would have affected as many as 5 million people who are in the U.S. illegally. Now, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it will halt preparations for the May program until further notice.

“The genie would be impossible to put back into the bottle,” Hanen wrote, adding legalizing the presence of millions of people is a “virtually irreversible” action.

As polarizing as the discussion on immigration is, Hanen’s recent efforts also bring up another important political question: did President Obama exceed his political power with his executive order on immigration?

The coalition of 26 mostly conservative states in the South and Midwest thinks so. They argue that while Obama’s action would force increased investment in law enforcement, health care and education, the president has also violated the “Take Care Clause” of the U.S. Constitution, which they say limits the scope of presidential power.

House Speaker John Boehner said the ruling wasn’t a surprise and underscores that Obama acted beyond his authority. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed as well, adding Obama has repeatedly acknowledged “he doesn’t have the authority to take the kinds of actions he once referred to as ‘ignoring the law’ and ‘unwise and unfair.’”

In a statement early last week, the White House defended November’s executive orders, claiming they were within the president’s legal authority, and saying the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress have said federal officials can establish priorities in enforcing immigration laws.

“The law is on our side, and history is on our side,” Obama said in defense of his immigration policies.

Other immigrant advocates attacked Judge Hanen’s ruling, saying he had failed to consider the benefits to national security and the economy of having millions of unauthorized immigrants begin taking background checks and paying taxes.

The White House said the U.S. Department of Justice will file an appeal, which will be heard by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. It is very likely that this case will reach the Supreme Court. The issue could be tied up in the court system for a few more months, at least. But a number of immigrant agencies will continue prepping immigrants in expectation that Obama’s executive orders will eventually take effect.

Reach DCP Editor Sarah Sidlow at Editor@DaytonCityPaper.com

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Did President Obama exceed his presidential power by announcing an executive order on immigration?

Debate Left: Executive traction

Response By Ben Tomkins

The latest hew and cry from Republicans regarding Obama’s executive order to extend deportation deferment to parents of legal immigrants (U.S. citizens) and increasing deferment age for DREAMers is nothing more than continued obstructionist politics. 

I don’t typically like to engage in political commentary from a partisan standpoint any more than I would walk into a voting booth and crank a lever with the letter “D” or “R” on it without reading the names of the candidates. However, in this instance the issue has been forced by congressional Republicans who, despite having been neutered by the more conservative and ridiculous elements of their party and voting bloc, are continuing their pathetic and futile attempt to inseminate the sociopolitical landscape with rhetoric so as to hide the embarrassment of their impotence. 

Obama’s executive orders on immigration are carefully worded to ensure they remain on the applicative side of legislation rather than creation. The extension of deportation deferments for parents of legal U.S. citizens who have been living here for at least five years, and “DREAMers” is absolutely a reaction based on standing government policy, rather than an alteration or creation of legislation. 

The key to understanding the legal authority for presidential action has to do with how executive orders are meant to function. The president has broad constitutional authority to enact orders reflecting the application of law so as to bring it in sync with the practical operational framework of standing policy and legislation. In many cases, they can give the impression that the president is creating laws, because these executive orders carry with them an imperative for government entities to alter the way they operate.

In both instances of Obama’s executive orders on immigration, nobody is being offered citizenship or a version of it. That would definitely be an overreach of presidential power into the realm of the legislative branch. 

However, current immigration law does not adequately address the problems of children who are citizens, or adults who are effectively permanent residents. 

Clearly, one group has the right to stay and the other, again through Congressional inaction, hasn’t been asked to leave for so long that it would be ridiculous to order a mass exodus.

It would be extremely difficult for child citizens to exercise their right to stay without their parents; in essence, it would disenfranchise them. As such, current legislation carries with it a murkiness that makes application of the law extremely difficult. Furthermore, the issue clearly isn’t a rare or relatively isolated anomaly. We aren’t talking about a few families from Iceland that happened to give birth six weeks prematurely while they were on vacation in the U.S., or while they were transferred here by their company. This is a large-scale problem involving millions of people, and the applicative difficulties reach far beyond allowing families to fill out paperwork and be handled on a case-by-case basis.

This is precisely where an executive order is needed to clarify the issue until further legislative action is taken. All Obama’s executive orders are doing is forestalling deportation and maintaining the status quo until Congress comes up with a definitive, clear plan of action for him to enforce. The fact that Congress has been unable to act owing to a combination of rage and petty bitchiness is on them. 

It is interesting to note that the primary complaint of Republicans and their faux-Libertarian parasites is not that Obama has issued the orders. They are complaining that the order impacts too many people for him to issue it without their approval. This clearly doesn’t pass even the most meager BS test.

First off, by standing on that ground they have immediately conceded that it is within the president’s capacity to issue orders of this nature. As a matter of fact, Republicans didn’t even try to make that case that it’s overreaching his authority to do so. The question then becomes, if it’s fine for him to do it, how does one go about deciding what constitutes too many people? Is it five? Five hundred, Five thousand? Personally, I don’t think there’s a single Republican on the planet who could actually pick one, provided an obfuscated racism isn’t making that number zero.

Secondly, the argument of volume is actually supporting the idea that Obama must act. The need for deferment is precisely because of the difficulties arising from the number of people the lack of clarity affects. Not vice-versa. In fact, the larger the problem, the more imperative it should be that Congress  act so the president doesn’t have to deal with the confusion of millions of people trapped in limbo by their apathy and blind obstructionism.

If you are a conservative who feels people who are here illegally should be deported, then you should be outraged at your Republican Congress’ inability get the job done for you. Either they are pulling the wool of their lack of conviction over your eyes by appealing Obama’s executive orders on non-principled grounds, or they are patronizing you by pretending they actually care to get your vote.

I have no problem with a president using his power of executive order call a timeout until things are clarified by Congress. The fact that he has to on an issue this big entirely justifies his statement that, “If Congress won’t act, I will.”

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Debate Right: Keep DREAMing

Response By David H. Landon

Hoping to take the issue off the table, President Barack Obama waited until after the November 2014 election to issue his executive order on immigration. President Obama, with a stroke of his pen, attempted to give quasi-legal status and work permits to millions of illegal immigrants. There are strong opinions on both sides of the illegal immigration question, but even if you support comprehensive immigration reform, you can still share the conclusion that Obama’s action sets a dangerous precedent for America. 

Ironically, as recently as September of 2014, President Obama agreed that he was unable to legally take the action he has now attempted to take in this blatant overreach of executive authority. In an interview with Telemundo, Obama stated, “If we start broadening that (speaking about his administrations’ immigration policy), then essentially I’ll be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally.” On another occasion at a Town Hall he said, “The easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws.” 

From his lips to God’s ears … but wait; now the president has decided that this expansion of our national immigration policy is legal and within his powers as the chief executive. What a difference a few weeks makes.

Why is this move by the Obama administration so dangerous? This experiment in self-governance known as the United States did not simply come into existence in 1789 by some accident. Having just gained our independence from a despot, King George III, we were extremely cautious about the centralization of power in an executive authority. Having pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to the cause of individual freedom, the founders were determined to create a form of government wherein the branches of that government would form checks and balances. The framers of our Constitution created a limited government with separate, equal branches of government – including an executive branch controlled by a president – but carefully empowered Congress and the federal courts to check the president’s power. This Obama executive order expanding our immigration laws violates both the spirit and the letter of the law.

There seems to be another force at work which is creating a rift in our national politics. The abuse of power through the use of executive orders is a serious concern. However, it goes beyond that. The Democratic Party through President Obama seems hell-bent on establishing their vision for this country with or without the will of the electorate. Recently, in another example of executive overreach, the Supreme Court struck down three of the president’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board as unconstitutional. There seems to be little concern about the Constitution by this president.

When George W. Bush was president, the Democrats were the champions of using the filibuster to block Bush nominees to the courts and other positions. Once Obama was president and it was the Republicans using the parliamentary procedure to block Obama appointments, suddenly rules were no longer made to be followed. Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went nuclear in November, 2013 when he abolished the filibuster for presidential appointees and judicial nominees (below the Supreme Court). He did it to pack the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals with liberals.

With the shift in power in the U.S. Senate as the result of the mid-term elections, many on the right are urging Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell to give the Democrats some of their own medicine. They advise invoking the nuclear option on the Democrats’ current efforts to filibuster the budget bill, in which the Republican House and Senate have defunded the part of the Homeland Security budget that is the financial component to the president’s executive order on immigration. 

If they were to do so, a simple majority is all that would be necessary to pass the legislation and send it to the president’s desk. It would then be on him to veto the legislation and shut down all funding for Homeland Security. However, if that happens, the political narrative would be dramatically changed. With that veto, it would be the president, and not the Republican Congress, shutting down DHS.  

There is a case to be made for immigration reform. But it is the prerogative of the legislative branch, not a runaway executive, to bring that change about. The Republican Congress will undoubtedly present legislation to deal with our broken immigration system. You can be certain that it will first address the issue of our porous southern border. Until that is achieved there is little support from the majority of the American people to address worker visas, DREAMers and a reasonable pathway toward citizenship for the 11 million or more illegals who have crossed our border.

America, and its promise of freedom, is like a life raft for many who live in Central and South America. They are willing to break our laws to enter this country and grab the life raft. Americans are generous people, probably the most generous in the entire world. We want to provide that safe life raft for those who yearn to live under the prosperity and safety that is America. Placing limits on the number of hands grabbing onto the raft at any one time is not selfish or cruel. It’s sound public policy that will keep the raft from collapsing with all on board.

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at DaveLandon@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Sarah Sidlow
Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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