President Obama reiterated today that, in the absence of congressional action, he intends to use his pen to bring about immigration reform. I don’t think he’s bluffing. Expect an Executive Order that will authorize the issuance of work permits to millions of illegal immigrants.
Conn Carroll says that “if Republicans let Obama get away with this, they are essentially repudiating any mandate they received from their own voters Tuesday.”
Yes and no.
Immigration was an issue for Republicans in this year’s election, thanks to the comprehensive reform package passed by the Senate. But I’m not convinced that Republican voters as whole strongly oppose work permits for law abiding illegal immigrants who have been in this country for an extended period of time. What truly bothered Republican voters, I think, was the broader “amnesty” passed by the Senate which included a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Republican voters (as well as independents) were also bothered, though, by Obama’s high-handedness. Thus, Republicans have a mandate to oppose it. An Executive Order enabling illegal immigrants to obtain work permits would not only be high-handed, it would probably be unlawful.
But what can Republicans do to stop Obama? That’s the real question.
According to Carroll, “the only thing Republicans can do now is use the power of the purse to constrain Obama’s executive power.” Thus “they must pass an appropriations bill that specifically denies all funding for issuing work permits and other documents to any illegal alien seeking prosecutorial discretion.” Alternatively, they should “limit the number of permits issued to something in line with historical norms.”
The problem with this approach is that, regardless of any appropriations bills passed by Congress, Obama will find a way to fund the issuance of work permits to illegals. At that point, the only legislative recourse will be impeachment. But congressional Republicans lack the stomach for impeachment, and with good reason.
What else can Republicans do? They can make it clear to Obama that if he issues an Executive Order, he will receive no cooperation at all from the Republican controlled Senate and House. Obama needs the cooperation of the Senate just to confirm judges and presidential appointees.
The problem with this approach is that Obama doesn’t expect Republican cooperation in any event. Nor is it clear that Republicans would be well-advised to agree to the high level of cooperation that would be required to cause Obama to back down on amnesty through Executive Order.
Perhaps the most promising means of thwarting Obama is through the courts. It’s doubtful that, absent congressional action, Obama has the legal authority to grant work permits to illegal immigrants. And if Obama violates the terms of an appropriations bill that denies funding for this purpose, his legal position will become even more tenuous.
Even so, it’s anyone’s guess how courts would end ruling on this matter. Thus, it may turn out that Obama gets away with issuing work permits to several million illegal immigrants.
In that case, Republicans will have a hot political issue in 2016, albeit one that cuts two ways. In addition, Republicans will be in an improved position to push for border security legislation and to unite around the proposition that, in light of Obama’s work permit program, nothing further be done on behalf of people who came to the U.S. illegally. A path to citizenship would, I hope, be off-the-table for the foreseeable future.