The president’s frustration is understandable. Faced with a genuine humanitarian crisis, Congress’s failure to pass a workable fix is unconscionable. In the Republican-controlled House, the GOP bowed to its most extreme lawmakers in passing measures that have zero chance of becoming law — and would have paved the way for deportations of blameless young people raised in this country after being brought here by their undocumented parents. In the Senate, the intransigence of both parties yielded no bill at all.
Obstinate, hopelessly partisan and incapable of problem-solving, Congress is a mess. But that doesn’t grant the president license to tear up the Constitution. As Mr. Obama himself said last fall: “If, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so. But we’re also a nation of laws.” To act on his own, the president said, would violate those laws.
Mr. Obama now seems to be jettisoning that stance in the name of rallying his political base. He is considering extending temporary protection from deportation to millions of illegal immigrants, including the parents of U.S.-born children and others who have lived in the United States for years. Conceivably, this would give Democrats a political boost in 2016. Just as conceivably, it would trigger a constitutional showdown with congressional Republicans, who could make a cogent argument that Mr. Obama had overstepped his authority.
The president should think twice. Some of the same Democrats and pro-immigrant advocates urging him to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation would be outraged if a Republican president took a similarly selective approach to enforcing the laws — say, those that guarantee voting rights or prohibit employment discrimination. Mr. Obama’s instincts — “we’re also a nation of laws” — were and remain correct.
I am poised to change the title of my article to “Gridlock and Executive Power.” Short and sweet.