If you want an example of why conservatives don’t believe President Obama’s overtures about working with them, and why he actually is making partisanship worse in this country while he claims to want the opposite, look no further than his administration’s new policy toward “low priority” illegal immigrants.
The policy, first reported by the Washington Times and subsequently confirmed in a publicly released memo from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, lays out the criteria for prosecutors to exercise discretion about whether to deport an illegal immigrant. The person in question must:
Individuals who meet these criteria almost certainly will not be deported. They will not immediately be granted any “substantive right, immigration status or pathway to citizenship” because, in a rare moment of modesty, Napolitano acknowledges the administration can’t go that far in changing the law. But nor can we rule out such a development in the future.
What the administration has done here is short-circuit the legislative process and make a mockery of the idea that he wants to reach compromises with those who think differently about immigration policy.
You may recall that Congress had a heated debate about the DREAM Act, which would have granted a path to citizenship to almost the exact same pool of illegal immigrants. Now, there’s no question the path to citizenship element is a big difference between the two. But nor can anyone deny that Congress, as is its prerogative, has been debating how to change the legal approach to people who were brought to the United States as children — immigrants who arguably did not make the decision to come here illegally and might well be foreigners in their own birth countries if they’ve spent most of their lives here.
There is some sympathy among many conservatives for these child immigrants. But there is also debate about how to make such a policy change without creating an incentive for more illegal immigration. In fact, that is the biggest problem many conservatives — including yours truly — have with making such a policy change. That’s why you hear us talking about making the border more secure first, so that any kind of leniency for illegal immigrants already here does not lead to large number of new illegal immigrants.
With this decision, the Obama administration is dismissing those legitimate concerns. It is antagonizing its critics, who might have helped foster a compromise. And it is undercutting the very notion of a compromise, by taking what it wants without addressing what the other side wants.
Imagine if the president could unilaterally decree higher taxes, and then told conservatives, “OK, now I’ll be happy to talk about spending.” He would have no credibility, because he would already have gotten what he wanted without having to give in on anything.
That’s what’s happened here.
Then there are the details about the policy. Someone who came from Mexico to the U.S. a month before his 16th birthday and is now 21 cannot in any sense be described as someone who knows “only this country as home,” as Napolitano’s memo puts it. These kinds of thresholds for deciding when the law of the land should be ignored are more properly debated in Congress than decreed by an administration. Yes, the memo only grants discretion and doesn’t require it, but it also makes clear a strong preference for ignoring these “low priority cases.”
And let’s not pretend this policy is totally unrelated to this fall’s election. It’s not only brazen pandering to a group whose votes Obama needs desperately, but it is made at the same time his administration is fighting voter ID laws that would prevent, or at least sharply curb, any voting by illegal immigrants. (Apparently, the White House thinks you need to show an ID to listen to your president speak, but not to vote for him.)
Have other presidents single-handedly set policies their political opponents didn’t like? Of course. But most of them didn’t have the chutzpah to continue claiming, three and a half years into a very partisan presidency, that they really, really, really wanted to work with the other side of the aisle.
– By Kyle Wingfield