What Did The President Do Wrong?

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Immigration reform has always sparked some controversy and has been a subject for political debate for decades in US. In recent years, legislations on comprehensive reform have stalled a few times. When President Obama took office in 2009, he leaned towards bipartisan effort to tackle a comprehensive immigration reform. Despite the failure of that effort, the president seemed poised to act, with or without the help of Congress. He stated that comprehensive reform is such an urgent national need that if congress did nothing, he would act unilaterally.

The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was quoted saying that, “Congress will act” if President Barack Obama carries out his plan to make major changes to immigration laws through his executive authority. I am convinced Americans were glad to hear this since the Congress had kicked the issue to the curve for years now. If the president’s action would serve as a wake-up call to a congress whose approval rating sits at 14% for refusal to “act” or do its job for many years, so be it

Last Thursday, the president made good his promise. He finally did it. Through an executive order he granted up to 5 million undocumented immigrants relief from deportation. The President’s executive action defers deportations for noncriminal undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for 5 years or more, and contributed to our society. Though many people agree that the action will achieve some goals for the nation, some critics of the president argue that the he overstepped his authority and infringed the Constitution.

From a lawyer’s perspective, I believe it is futile to argue that the president’s action is unconstitutional. You can cry wolf as much as you want. The president’s power to issue executive orders is enshrined in the United States Constitution, and executive orders do not require congressional approval. It’s that simple. An executive order is merely a directive from the President to other officials in the executive branch. The executive order will stay in place unless, or until Congress passes immigration reform legislation to take its place.

Legal critics, who are well aware that there’s nothing unconstitutional about the president’s action, now resort to the argument that immigration is a major national issue that should go through Congress. However, they seem to forget the legal precedents established by earlier presidents who used their executive power to make changes to the US immigration system. They seem to have forgotten that John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush each used executive power to reform the immigration law of the country to some degree.

There’s no doubt that when a president abuses his executive order authority, it undermines the constitutional separation of powers. However, I do not see anything abusive in the present case, or better put, I am not aware of any such indication. Come to think of it, Congress has had many opportunities to act on the issue. So what is the President expected do on the face of inaction or ineptitude of congress when it’s becoming increasingly clear that Americans of all political stripes want Congress to pass an immigration reform law of some sort? Surely, the nation’s immigration policy needed some reform and Congress’s failure to pass a workable fix is unconscionable. I hear some folks say POTUS did the right thing, but the wrong way. I cannot help but wonder what the President did wrong.

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