Obama’s Immigration Setback Is a Gift to GOP

Liz Peek

President Obama has just suffered a double hit. First, his executive action granting temporary amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants was put on ice by a judge in Texas. Second, Republicans who opposed the measure no longer look so unreasonable. 

Late Monday US District Judge Andrew Hanen blocked Mr. Obama’s executive action on immigration, which was due to take effect today. The judge did not rule on the merits of the case. Rather, he determined that the state of Texas (and some 24 other states) has standing to sue the federal government over the so-called “amnesty” measure, since it “stands to suffer direct damages from the implementation of DAPA”, as the deferred action program is called. 

Related: Public to Blame Republicans If DHS Shuts Down 

Score one for the American people. Score two for the GOP, which may have been rescued from once again infuriating voters.

President Obama’s decision to unilaterally overturn U.S. immigration policies and allow up to 4.7 million undocumented immigrants to stay in the country has been unpopular from the start; even the Latino community has been divided on the executive action. While a majority of Americans endorse a pathway to legal status for persons who jump various hurdles, such as passing a background security check, most dislike the president’s go-it-alone approach.

In December, a Bloomberg poll found that 56 percent of Americans disapproved of the president’s executive action, including 57 percent of Independents. An earlier NBC/WSJ poll found that only 43 percent of Hispanics supported the president’s action. The outcome of that survey was so unnerving to Obama supporters that NBC News’ Mark Murray suggested it shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Perhaps if Obama had taken the country’s temperature on immigration more seriously, he would have concluded that the outcome of his earlier mini-Dreamers provision, enacted to win Hispanic support for his 2012 reelection, had soured the nation on further opening our immigration door. The flood of young people from Central America, which made a mockery of our border “security,” horrified the nation.

Related: GOP Could Give Obama’s Immigration Plan a Free Pass

That the president’s DACA program had encouraged the tidal wave of youngsters was indisputable. (Even Joe Biden inadvertently acknowledged the cause-and-effect.) It was but a short leap to recognize that granting legal status to millions more would invite an even bigger wave of people trying to take advantage of what was advertised as amnesty south of the border.  

Republicans in Congress, cognizant of the damage done to the GOP brand by their 2013 shut-down of the federal government, struggled to find a path to overturning Obama’s executive action, which many consider unconstitutional. They finally chose to pass an Omnibus spending bill that kept the federal government afloat, but carved out spending for Homeland Security, which is charged with carrying out Obama’s executive order. More recently, the House passed a spending bill for DHS which excluded funds related to the program.  Senate Democrats have refused to take up the DHS bill and the agency will run out of money at the end of the month.

At a moment when the country is on high alert for terrorist threats, crippling DHS (as the White House would characterize it) would seem a foolhardy approach to challenging Obama’s immigration measure. CNN/ORC polling has shown that if indeed DHS were “shut down,” meaning that the large majority of workers would still be on the job but without a paycheck, 53 percent of the country would blame the GOP, while only 30 percent would hold Obama accountable.  

How this spending squabble will be impacted by the new decision allowing the lawsuit by Texas to proceed is unclear. The White House has indicated the Justice Department will appeal; it appears likely that the Fifth Circuit Court will hear the case quite soon.  With luck, the temporary injunction will give the GOP time to pass a funding measure for DHS in the few days left. Or, Congress can pass another continuing resolution, to fund DHS pending the outcome of the lawsuits.  Since the GOP was attempting to delay implementation of the amnesty, they may conclude that the court’s decision has relieved them of that burden at least in the short run. 

Related: Factbox—What Happens If Homeland Security Funding Lapses

That would be a blessing, as a prolonged skirmish over DHS funding, carried on against a backdrop of ISIS executions and threats, will not sit well with voters. 

At the same time, Republicans need to argue this case in the court of public opinion – something they have not done well in prior battles with President Obama. They should remind the public that “prosecutorial discretion,” which the president has unquestionably, has never applied to millions of people or entitled those not being prosecuted to benefits like Social Security. 

They should broadcast the costs of granting as many as 5 million mostly low-income, not highly educated people access to our welfare safety net. Also, they need to clarify that choosing not to prosecute illegals does not allow for the elimination of laws that determined that status. The Congress, not the president, is charged with enacting laws.

Related: Immigration Fight with Obama Risks Republican Unity 

As many have noted, it is the president himself who has so ably articulated this latter point – not once or twice but on dozens of occasions. As he said in March 2011, “With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed….” He added, “…for me to simply through executive order ignore those Congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president.” 

Obama’s about-face on this issue stemmed presumably from his recognition that Congress was not likely to enact comprehensive immigration reform during his second term, thus depriving him of a cherished legacy accomplishment. He worries what the historians will say. 

Unhappily for Mr. Obama, history may well echo the critics of today. Among his most costly shortcomings has been a disdain for working with Congress – the “appropriate role” of a president. Had he put immigration reform at the top of his agenda during his first term, and especially during the two years when Democrats were in the majority, it would have passed.

In acting alone now, out of impatience with our system of checks and balances, he is putting the goal of sensible reform even further in the distance. His pen appears to have run dry; he never even picked up the phone. 

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