Intrepid reader A.I. drew my attention to Jon Stewart at the Daily Show, who scores a big hit against Fox News and The Washington Times. Here is the quote I used in my last post, taken from the latter source:
With respect to the notion that I could suspend deportations through executive order, that's just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed and I know that everybody here at Bell is studying hard so you know we have three branches of government. Congresses passes the law. The executive branch's job is to enforce and implement those laws and then the judiciary has to interpret the law. There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system, that for me through simply an executive order ignore those mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president.
Here is the rest of the comment that I did not include in my early post:
That does not mean, though, that we can't make decisions that emphasize enforcement on those who have engaged in criminal activity. It also doesn't mean that we can't strongly advocate or propose legislation that would change the law in order to make it more fair...more just and ultimately would help young people do the right thing and whose talents we want to embrace in order to succeed as a country.
Despite the snide remarks of my commenters about Moonies, the second part was included in the Washington Times article; so any fault is mind.
Nothing in this added passage helps the President much. Yes, he has the power to prioritize when it comes to enforcing the law and to advocate changes in the law. He does not here claim the right to use the former power to enact legal rules that were specifically rejected by Congress. In fact, he explicitly denies that he has power to do exactly what he did by his recent executive order: suspend by fiat "laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system."
Sean Hannity at Fox, by contrast, did selectively edit a different set of remarks by the President. Here is the bit that was played on Hannity:
This notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is just not true [break] The fact of the matter is there are laws on the books that I have to enforce and I think that there has been a great disservice done to getting the Dream Act passed and getting comprehensive immigration reform passed by perpetrating the notion that somehow I can go and do these things. It's just not true.
Here is the rest of the remark:
What we can do is to prioritize enforcement since there are limited enforcement resources and say we're not going to go chasing after this young man or anybody else who's been acting responsibly and would otherwise qualify for legal status if the Dream Act passed.
Hannity should have included the entire passage. His edited version creates a false impression here of the contrast between the President's words and his deeds and that is journalistic malpractice.
The entire version presents a contradiction in the President's argument. No, I can't enact the Dream Act on my own, he tells us, but I can "prioritize enforcement" in order to suspend deportation of those who "would otherwise qualify for legal status if the Dream Act passed." In other words, the President was contemplating the use of that power to enact provisions from the Dream Act. The prerogative of a President to prioritize enforcement is, as Mr. Obama admits, justified in order to efficiently use limited resources. It is not for the sake of doing an end run around Congress.
I would note that Jon Stewart engages in his own act of egregious falsification and it is unintentionally instructive. He scoffs at the notion that there is something unprecedented in the President's action.
Apparently what Obama has done is completely without precedent in our Democracy. To find examples of a President acting unilaterally on deportation policy would, I mean to find examples of that you'd have to go back as far as, ahhhhh, George W. Bush.
Stewart plays a clip, apparently from a foreign news agency, praising President Bush 43 for a reprieve of Liberians during that country's civil war. Stewart goes on to point out that Clinton, Bush 41, and Ronald Reagan did much the same.
What Stewart neglects to tell his audience is that all these actions were done within the confines of existing immigration law. US immigration law allows persons who do not otherwise qualify as refugees to receive Temporary Protected Status or Deferred Enforced Departure status. These apply to specific groups of people who would face persecution or extreme hardship if they were repatriated. The exceptions have been used for persons from war-torn countries in Africa and Central America. The Obama Administration issued a TPS for persons from Haiti after the earthquake. Those are examples of executive authority exercise within the law as opposed to executive fiat modifying the law.
What the President did in his recent action on immigration has nothing to do with prosecutorial discretion, as his surrogates kept insisting on Sunday talk shows, or with prioritizing enforcement. He was not acting in order to save resources, but to "do the right thing." He suspended deportations otherwise demanded by law, a group defined by standards from a bill that Congress failed to pass. I have taken no position on whether this is constitutional or not. I only point out that the President has clearly said that it is unconstitutional and that it is within his powers. Anyway, he did it.