President Obama stunned the nation this past week with the announcement of a new policy for how the United States will deal with individuals who were brought to this country as children by their parents illegally, a group of people commonly referred to as “DREAMers” in reference to the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act. The DREAM Act would have given permanent residency to those DREAMers who go to college or enlist in the military but was rejected by Congress. According to federal law, DREAMers are illegal immigrants and therefore cannot be legally employed, and they face the constant risk of being discovered and subsequently deported…until now. Obama’s new policy states that DREAMers who are under the age of 30 and have no criminal record will no longer be deported and they will be able to receive federal work permits.
The President’s action is fraught with controversy. Considering that Latinos are becoming an essential voting bloc, and one to which immigration reform is important, the Democrats will surely attempt to use the policy in the general election as proof that Obama is willing to help those who are mired in the nation’s flawed immigration system. Both parties agree that this country needs comprehensive immigration reform, but the disagreements are not only about the question of amnesty. Republicans staunchly oppose addressing the problem of the illegal immigrants here in the country until the border with Mexico is secured and the flow of illegals is halted. This is because an honest debate about what to do with the millions of illegal immigrants currently in the country cannot occur if there are more and more of them coming here every day, because among numerous other dilemmas, it creates a double standard – people who came here illegally before the existence of any sort of amnesty law would be favored over those who continue to come after the law’s establishment.
But even more troubling than the policy shift itself is how it will be enacted. The move is not due to an act of Congress but is instead solely due to the president’s directions to the Department of Homeland Security. Essentially, the president is telling the department to stop enforcing federal law. Obama insists that he is taking this matter into his own hands because the “do-nothing” Congress refuses to take action to help DREAMers; however, that simply is not how this republic works. Matters with implications of such national importance as immigration, which has both foreign policy and economic ramifications, are not supposed to be based on the whim of the president but instead to be decided by Congress, and by announcing this new policy Obama is flagrantly overstepping his constitutional authority. As much as progressives would love for Obama to be able to dictate the Democratic agenda without deference to the partisan (read: Tea Party-infested) Congress, the fact is that this is not a monarchy. Checks and balances exist between the three branches of the federal government to ensure that the power the people give to it is not abused and voters should be very concerned if this announcement is representative of the President’s views on the power of the executive office.