In his State of the Union Remarks, President Obama asked Congress to advance immigration reform and he has made clear he wants Congress to grant legal status to those in the United States unlawfully. This weekend during their retreat, Republicans in Congress are considering what they should do. Congress should not trust the President as a partner to push an unpopular amnesty.
The President and Congress did not pass comprehensive immigration reform during his first two years in office when liberals controlled both Houses of Congress. He now wants conservatives to join him in this unpopular policy, apparently asking them to trust that he will enforce the law in return.
Because amnesty by itself is extremely unpopular, sometimes policy makers include other, more popular measures alongside it. For example, in 1986 Congress passed, and the President signed, a “one time” amnesty of some 3 million unlawful immigrants and promised border security and workplace enforcement. Unfortunately, the promises of border security and workplace enforcement were not kept. Today more than 10 million unlawful immigrants reside in the United States.
In the same speech in which he was asking Congress and the American people for trust, the President vowed to use his pen and his phone to advance his agenda on his own, without the people’s representatives in Congress. Alas, Congress has plenty of evidence to conclude that this is not an idle threat.
President Obama’s administration has changed his signature health care law again and again. In the immigration area, The Department of Homeland Security announced it will not enforce our nation’s immigration law against so-called “dreamers” by issuing a memorandum, after Congress has repeatedly refused to pass the DREAM Act. Our federal drug laws will also go unenforced by the President in states that legalize them under state law. Even now, the President has decided to use executive power to impose carbon dioxide limits even though Congress rejected that policy during the cap-and-trade debate.
Given the President’s disregard for enforcing the law and changing the law without going back to Congress, policymakers have no real reason to trust the President to uphold any new immigration laws. According to the Daily Caller, Rep. Paul Ryan [R-WI], who has said he would like to pass immigration reform and even grant legal status to unlawful immigrants, said to an audience recently, “we have a hard time trusting this president in enforcing the laws.” He continued, “Look what he’s doing on health care and all these extra-legal things he’s doing with executive orders and executive actions that we don’t believe he has the authority to do[.]”
Lack of trust is only one reason amnesty is the wrong policy for Congress. As pointed out elsewhere, amnesty is unfair, costly, and won’t work to stop unlawful immigration. Not only is amnesty bad policy, but the American people are not clamoring for amnesty or even immigration reform this year. Only 3 percent of the American people think immigration is a top priority. Most have a healthy skepticism of promises to control the border: only 5 percent think it is very likely that a new immigration law will actually seal the border.
Policymakers in the House would be unwise to push an unpopular and controversial amnesty while trusting President Obama to uphold our nation’s immigration laws (current or new).