Our Voice: President, Congress fail on immigration reform

January 19, 2014 

It's difficult to decide who has the most disappointing record on immigration reform -- Congress or the president.

The failure of the House to consider the comprehensive set of reforms approved in the Senate is another dreary example of congressional inaction on the nation's most pressing problems.

But President Obama's use of executive actions to make an end run around Congress deepens our concerns about what historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. has described as "The Imperial Presidency."

Obama's frustration with Congress is understandable. Most Americans share it. But executive action to change immigration policy further weakens the separation of powers our Founding Fathers envisioned as a safeguard against tyranny.

Whether you agree with the policy doesn't change the threat to the American system of checks and balances posed by such unilateral actions.

As Congress dithered over immigration reform, Obama halted deportations of illegal immigrants brought to the United States when they were children.

At the time, we expressed our concerns about the threat presidential overreach poses to our democracy.

"In part, the powers of the imperial presidency have expanded to fill a vacuum left by Congress' inability to get anything done," we wrote.

Recent history proves that unless Congress begins to fulfill its duties and quit wallowing in a perpetual stalemate, the White House will continue to accumulate more power, regardless of the occupant.

More recently, the administration issued a memo directing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services personnel to use "prosecutorial discretion" to benefit immigrants who violate the terms of the Visa Waiver Program, which allows individuals from designated countries to enter the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa.

That stay only is supposed to be extended for "emergency" reasons but the new directive gives immigration officials broad authority to grant waivers and even coveted green cards immigrants need to find legal employment in the U.S.

Critics have accused Obama of violating the Constitution, prompting a congressional hearing and a lawsuit by immigration agents who accuse the government of preventing them from fulfilling their sworn oath to uphold the law, Anita Kumar of McClatchy's Washington, D.C., bureau reported.

"The current administration is picking and choosing which laws to enforce," said Rep. Robert Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican who's the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "The president cannot refuse to enforce a law simply because he dislikes it," Goodlatte said.

One bright spot -- none of Obama's changes to immigration rules precludes congressional action. All Congress needs to reclaim its authority over immigration policy is some political will.

And according to Obama, that may be forthcoming. The president recently told Senate Democrats he expects Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to pass immigration reform this year, defying predictions the issue is dead for 2014.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the lead sponsor of the Senate-passed immigration bill, described Obama as "cautiously optimistic" after the meeting, The Hill reported.

"I think our Republican colleagues realize that to be blocking immigration reform is not good for them," Schumer added.

Boehner has made several recent moves giving Obama and his Democratic allies hope, such as hiring Rebecca Tallent to serve as his new director of immigration policy. She previously worked for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a co-sponsor of the Senate immigration bill.

Imagine -- A law created by Congress passing a bill and the president signing it. That would be an encouraging course of events.

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