Not Even Obama Believes His Immigration Power Grab is Constitutional

There is something sadly ironic about having a president who chooses to knowingly violate the Constitution despite his background as a constitutional law professor.

And let’s be clear, President Obama knows his soon-to-be-announced unilateral immigration orders are unconstitutional. Indeed, he’s said so himself.

At a 2011 Town Hall, President Obama set the tone for the debate by highlighting his view that legislation, not executive action, was needed to address the immigration conundrum. Obama said that the laws were clear enough “that for me to simply, through executive order, ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president.”

“Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting,” the president would say later that year. “Not just on immigration reform. But that’s not how – that’s not how our system works. That’s not how our democracy functions. That’s not how our Constitution is written.”

To his credit, Obama didn’t waiver from that stance over the next several years despite the rising volume of amnesty advocates.

“If we start broadening [the Dream Act], then essentially I’ll be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally,” the president said in a 2013 interview with Telemundo. “So that’s not an option.”

“This is something that I have struggled with throughout my presidency,” Mr. Obama said in separate interview from the same year. “The problem is, is that I’m the president of the United States, I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute the laws that are passed.”

In an immigration speech last November, the president was also quick to temper the expectations of liberal activists who were demanding action on immigration.

“The easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws,” he told the crowd. “And what I’m proposing is the harder path.”

And yet here we stand, just days out from the historic drubbing that the president’s party took in the midterm elections, and President Obama is set to propose a radical immigration plan for no other reason than he’s grown impatient with Congress. CBS News reports:

President Obama will unveil his long-awaited plans for unilateral action on immigration Thursday evening and then travel to Las Vegas, Nevada, to promote his plan, according to a video released by the White House Wednesday. . .

The action could protect up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Immigration groups believe he’ll expand on an action he took in 2012 to protect immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. That program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (or DACA), grants these immigrants a two-year reprieve from deportation and provides them with a work permit if they meet certain qualifications. This deferral can also be renewed.

Are those good ideas? As columnist George Will said last week, that’s the wrong question to ask.

“The policies that reportedly the president is planning to implement are those about which intelligent people of good will can agree or disagree,” Will told Chris Wallace. “The policies are defensible. The process is execrable.”

And the justifications for the process are insulting. The best the White House can say about their sudden about-face on the constitutional question is that Congress has had plenty of time to act.

“House Republicans are being pretty clear about the fact that they’re never going to get around to [granting a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “And that’s what has caused the president or prompted the president to consider some alternatives.”

But as the Republican National Committee asked reporters in an email, “When did we add a ‘politically convenient clause’ to the Constitution in the last four years?”

The fact is that Congress didn’t add that clause. Making laws is difficult, especially in an era of polarization. It’s even more difficult when reasonable people can disagree about the benefits and demerits of a particular policy. But that’s the way it is and it’s always been.

At one point President Obama understood that. He understood the constitutional limits of his office were more important than his annoyance at not being able to achieve a particular goal. It’s sad that understanding has gradually eroded over the course of his six years in office. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his political capital and his political power have eroded as well.