A federal appeals court has agreed with a lower court, Texas and 25 other states (including Georgia) that President Obama didn’t have the legal authority to protect some 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation through executive action.
Of course, the court also agreed with Obama himself, who before issuing the order last November had acknowledged many times that only Congress could change the law.
Building on an earlier administration maneuver to shield immigrants who were brought to the country as children, last year’s action expanded the executive amnesty to the illegally present parents of U.S. citizens who meet also meet five other criteria. Contrary to Donald Trump’s claims, U.S. elected officials were talking about illegal immigration before he launched his campaign this summer. They just haven’t been able to agree to a solution, in part because Republicans and Democrats alike have political incentives to keep the issue alive rather than resolving it.
Until last year’s midterm elections, when the GOP finally took control of the U.S. Senate, Obama recognized the limits on his ability to act. But rather than try to work with the new Congress on legislation, he decided to act unilaterally. While many of Obama’s statements come with expiration dates, the law does not. There is no buzzer that goes off after a certain amount of time that allows the president to change the rules on his own if Congress hasn’t acted. That’s not how it works, although it appears increasingly likely we’re going to see Obama try a similar extralegal dodge when it comes to closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Whether you agree with Obama’s preferred policy is beside the point. Nor does your sense of whether Congress was going to work with Obama on the issue. Ignoring the law isn’t an option, even for the president of the United States. When the issue reaches the Supreme Court, let’s hope the justices set aside their personal feelings and make clear the separation of powers still matters.