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Obama immigration edict raises questions of authority, impact


When President Barack Obama announced that he would extend administrative relief for around 800,000 young illegal immigrants, pundits told us it was a major political victory for the president. But is it?

Offering a two-year reprieve to the children of illegal immigrants, Obama said in his speech announcing the new policy, would ???mend our nation???s immigration policy, to make it more fair, more efficient and more just, specifically for certain young people sometimes called DREAMers.???

Obama wins on two political fronts: He has taken a preemptive political strike that undermines the potential of a Republican flanking him on immigration (see sidebar) and he re-energized support in the Latino community???where polls already show him taking anywhere from 60 to 70 percent of the vote. Early results suggest that the solution is popular with all Americans. A Bloomberg Poll, for instance, released last week found that 64 percent of likely voters backed Obama???s decision. A Rasmussen poll showed that 71 percent of favored the policy, as well.

But ???mend??? immigration policy? Talk about overpromising. The president circumvented Congress, allowing young people from ages of 16 and 30, who pose no criminal threat, who have served in the military and/or completed minimum levels of education, a two-year delay of deportation and the freedom to apply for work permits. In essence, the president temporarily re-crafted existing law???a band-aid, at best. Republicans???had they shown a bit more urgency on the topic???would have proposed similar legislation that would have offered a permanent solution.

Larger questions remain

And there are larger questions concerning Obama???s newfound urgency to get immigration policy done. After all, even if Americans agree in substance, they may begin to have qualms about the manner in which it was employed.

Will they trust that policy will be implemented ???fairly???? What are the mechanisms to enforce the two-year amnesty, for instance? How will government ensure that someone has been in the country for 5 years continuous years of residence? How can law enforcement know that the young people in question were brought into this country by their law-breaking parents or that they came over the border themselves to partake in our educational system or jobs? What if this precipitates a spike in illegal immigration by enticing others to cross over?

The economic questions are also worth considering: This entails the reality and the perception. Most economists???and history???tell us that immigration does not displace people in the native workforce. But with the labor market worsening, more Americans may begin to ask a more populist question of Obama: How is it you can unsheathe your magical executive powers for foreigners but do so little for citizens themselves? Or, as one reporter for the Daily Caller put it to the president during his immigration speech: ???Why do you favor foreigners over American workers????

Then there is the broader question of executive power. As Matthew Spalding, director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at the Heritage Foundation points out, in the very DHS memo issued last week to implement Obama???s policy it states: ???This memorandum confers no substantive right, immigration status or pathway to citizenship. Only the Congress, acting through its legislative authority, can confer these rights.??? Yet the same memo offers details how officials confer substantive rights and immigration status on some illegal immigrants by ordering government to ignore the law.

Finally, there is the question of importance. Just how decisive is a marginal, and temporary, immigration policy going to be for most voters? For most voters, this won???t be a defining issue (and those that do care enough are likely cemented to their party affiliation already). Tracking polls showed no perceptible bump for the president after the announcement.