The DREAM Order Is Another Reason for Congress to Act on Immigration

By passing legislation, the House and Senate could rein in executive excesses and perhaps prevent restrictionists from becoming radicalized.

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During the last wave of hysteria about illegal immigration, I covered the subject for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, and tried to interview scores of Californians on all sides of the issue. That's when I first met Jim Gilchrist, who founded a group that sent volunteers down to the Mexican border to assist the Border Patrol. They'd drive around with flashlights and night-vision goggles, search for groups of illegal immigrants, and alert the border patrol when they spotted anyone. There were several organizations engaged in similar work, some of them populated by well-meaning advocates of law-and-order, others by virulent racists (as Gilchrist told me in a recent interview). They had one thing in common. They'd been radicalized by the idea that they were on the right side of the law in the immigration debate, and had public opinion on their side too, but were losing on the issue because America's political elites refused to enforce duly enacted laws.

I wonder if Minuteman types, the Californians who were most passionately in favor of Proposition 187, and proponents of tough anti-illegal immigration laws like the one recently passed in Arizona are going to be further radicalized by President Obama's executive order, which gives a respite to a narrow class of illegal immigrants who were brought to this country as children; or whether it will be implemented without much affecting the larger politics of the issue.

Here's hoping for the latter outcome.

Has President Obama overstepped his authority, as his critics suggest? As best I can tell it's a judgment call. In the judgment of Senator Obama, President Obama seems to have acted improperly:

This sort of reversal, in keeping with the many other instances in which President Obama has acted contrary to previously held positions on the rule of law, reflects poorly on him. At the same time, my mind is boggled by critics like John Yoo, who believes Obama is empowered to spy on anyone he likes, add anyone on earth to a kill list, or crush the testicles of a child to better interrogate his father ... but insists that a temporary reprieve for a small class of illegal immigrants is an "unprecedented stretching of the Constitution and the rule of law." James Joyner, who boggles my mind only in his consistent reasonableness, is a bit more restrained in his criticism:

The key issue here is one of the Constitutional balance of power. Presidents, of course, push the envelope all the time. Typically, though, it's done in the arena of national security policy, where the Constitution creates "an invitation to struggle" and where the stakes of dawdling can be quite high. In the matter of border policy, however, there's simply no question where the power lies and no exigent circumstances to justify flouting the law.

In fact, President Obama has "pushed the envelope" even on national-security matters wherein there was no imperative to act quickly and congressional prerogative was clear, so I don't buy the "invitation to struggle" distinction. 

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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