SAN DIEGO – A few years ago when President Barack Obama was mucking up the immigration debate with his stall tactics, I said that he should do us all a favor and just stop talking about the subject.
Obama still talks about immigration. And now his recent executive action to give a temporary reprieve to individuals who are otherwise deportable – such as undocumented parents of U.S. citizens – has so inflamed the right wing that conservatives are talking in circles and contradicting their own views on executive power.
While his critics might not be making a very effective case, Obama nevertheless is undermining his own argument.
When hecklers demanded during a recent speech in Chicago that he stop deportations, the president insisted that he didn’t deserve the criticism because he had just “changed” immigration law to address the problem.
“Now, you’re absolutely right that there have been significant numbers of deportations,” he told the crowd. “That’s true. But what you are not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law.”
Unbelievable. I had been arguing with conservatives that Obama didn’t “change” immigration law any more than a policeman who uses his discretion to not hand out a speeding ticket is changing traffic laws. This is common sense.
And now, it turns out, the first person I need to convince with my argument is Obama himself?
A number of legal experts have also come forward to claim that Obama has the Constitution on his side. In other words, Obama is right and he acted within his authority. Yet he doesn’t even know it.
But there is more to this story than a poor choice of words. Obama tried to convince the protesters that his executive action would decrease deportations. That is overselling it. We don’t know that deportations are going to go down. The administration promises not to deport parents for three years. So what? There are plenty of non-parents that Immigration and Customs Enforcement can still remove to reach its yearly quota of 400,000 deportations in order to keep government funding flowing.
Worst of all, Obama’s flub about “changing” the law is feeding a theory that has sprouted up on the left. It suggests that the president – who I have repeatedly said doesn’t really support immigration reform despite promises and rhetoric – is cynically using executive action, and his public comments, to decrease the chances we’ll have real reform before he leaves office.
I didn’t buy this theory at first. The president can’t stop Congress from passing a bill any more than he can force it to pass one. What Obama did was legal, defensible and overdue. And besides, Republicans won’t get very far with Hispanic voters – 89 percent of whom support the president’s executive action, according to a new poll by Latino Decisions – by claiming petulantly that Obama’s executive action got in the way of passing an immigration reform bill.
Still, as time goes on, I’m finding the theory more and more credible given that Obama’s heavy-handed approach to enforcement has now been coupled with his ham-handed approach to executive action.
If these folks are right, and Obama is once again putting one over on immigration reform proponents, then the worst-case scenario for the president isn’t impeachment or a lawsuit or the GOP shutting down the government – all of which Obama would likely welcome because of the political backlash against Republicans. The real nightmare scenario for the president is that a Republican-controlled Congress would get its act together and send him a bill that does something that Obama’s supporters in organized labor don’t want done – legalize the undocumented. It has long been clear that Obama is part of the “protectionist” wing of the Democratic Party that is intent on protecting Americans from having to compete with foreign workers. Given such a bill, the president would have to veto it.
And if that were to happen, all Americans would be forced to accept what some of us have always suspected – that Obama opposes immigration reform, and he’ll do whatever he can to prevent it by word or deed.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com.