National Immigration Forum

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It’s Called Leadership

August 09, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


In the Washington Post on August 6, columnist Charles Krauthammer claims that the Obama Administration’s actions to address national crises without waiting for Congress to act is insidious and oversteps its authority.


He was reacting to a leaked USCIS draft memo in which officials at the agency proposed some options for the agency to deal humanely with immigrants in the U.S. who currently are prevented from adjusting to Legal Permanent Resident status because of the way the immigration law is now being interpreted and because, up until recently, there was an assumption that Congress would act to fix our broken immigration system.


Krauthammer views the memo as an affront to our constitutional democracy, implying that the Administration is trying to legislate. 


In fact, however, the memo presents an examination of the authority given to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under current law to allow certain immigrants to stay here when their deportation or departure would not be in the national interest.  Rather than being condemned for some insidious conspiracy to grab power from the legislature, the Administration should be applauded for reviewing its options under the authority already given to it by the legislature in order to save some people from having their lives destroyed while we wait for our dysfunctional Congress to fix our broken immigration system.   


Krauthammer cites the Environmental Protection Agency’s pending regulation of carbon dioxide as another example, in his view, of the Administration’s overreach.  This example is more absurd, as the Supreme Court has already ruled that the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon emissions.  It would be difficult for it not to.  Carbon dioxide is a gas.  The law is the Clean Air Act (duh!).  The agency is the Environmental Protection Agency.  The consensus of the scientific community is that carbon dioxide emissions are changing the climate and harming the environment.  As with immigration, there was an assumption that Congress would act to deal with a crisis.  It didn’t, and so the Administration will proceed with regulation under its existing authority.


Good for the Administration.


Congress and the Administration should be working together to tackle crises facing the nation.  Members of Congress—mainly Republicans, but many Democrats as well—have instead been too busy burnishing that body’s image as the broken branch of government.  In the case of immigration, the system is broken and Congress ultimately must act to fix it.  A large majority of Americans favor allowing undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S. to stay and gain legal status under certain conditions.  (In this recent CNN/Opinion research poll, it’s now up to 81 percent.)  Instead of throwing up its hands in the face of Congressional inaction, the Administration is trying to figure out how it can work on the margins, using the authority it now has, to mitigate the effects of a broken immigration system that is breaking families apart and destroying people’s lives.


That’s not overreach, it’s leadership.


Image by Flickr user lumaxart.


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