Several readers have urged me to share my thoughts on President Obama's Executive Action on immigration of a few days ago. So here goes, in no particular order:
First, as loudly trumpeted as this is, I'm not sure that a whole lot is going to change. The basic proposition here is a declaration by the executive that we are going to stop seeking to deport people in certain categories, e.g., those who have been here five years and have kids who were born here and thus are citizens. (Here's a link to a government web site with descriptions of the Executive Orders.) Well, were they actually deporting a lot of those people up to now, at least among those who avoided contact with the law and did not get caught committing crimes? Not that I've noticed.
Supposedly these new Actions are being taken as a matter of "prosecutorial discretion." Of many orders and memos released in this blizzard of paper, here's one talking about how they are going to be "exercising" that "discretion." They seem to be saying that you have to ask for it, and they will only grant it on a case-by-case basis:
As an act of prosecutorial discretion, deferred action is legally available so long as it is granted on a case-by-case basis, and it may be terminated at any time at the agency's discretion. Deferred action does not confer any form of legal status in this country, much less citizenship; it simply means that, for a specified period of time, an individual is permitted to be lawfully present in the United States.
And then you have to register and give them all kinds of information about yourself:
Applicants must file the requisite applications for deferred action pursuant to the new criteria described above. Applicants must also submit biometrics for USCIS to conduct background checks similar to the background check that is required for DACA applicants.
Well, if you're working at some Silicon Valley shop, giving up that information may make some sense. What if you're a casual day laborer? And remember, the next President can completely change his mind and undo this thing, now that your name, address, and biometrics are all conveniently sitting in his data base.
Of course they do have a method of luring you onto their radar screen, which is a few hundreds of billions of dollars of prospective welfare, food stamp and Medicaid benefits for the "regularized." One of the great unrecognized advantages of our current very messy immigration system is its strong discouragement of the millions of illegals from signing on for the vast regime of handouts. You might get discovered and deported! Now that disincentive is at least partially gone.
Indeed, without the prospect of handouts no one in their right mind would volunteer to register with the government like a subject of the Soviet Union. So it would appear that the whole idea of the project is to get a few million new dependents signed up for the handouts. If you haven't previously read it, I recommend my article from May 2013 titled "Any Immigration Reform Passed By Congress Will Make Things Worse." (OK, I didn't think at the time that there might be a big immigration reform without it being passed by Congress. I should have just said that any immigration reform will make things worse.) Among other things, the article contrasted the U.S. versus European immigration regimes, with the Europeans having large number of immigrants qualifying for lots of handouts while most of our largely illegal immigrants did not. How does that European system work out?
The result of that in places that have tried it, namely much of Europe, is a huge alienated underclass seething with resentment and ready to explode in riots and/or terror attacks. For example, consider Sweden, currently engulfed in about a week of riots with no end in sight. The rioters are predominantly muslim immigrants, who make up about 6% of the population, while receiving some 70 - 80% of welfare payments. Or consider the extensive rioting in the poor suburbs around Paris in 2005, again largely by unemployed immigrants subsisting on various forms of state handouts. France just had another round of such riots in Amiens in 2012. Relevant to this issue is the now eighteen-part series by Mickey Kaus of the Daily Caller titled "Does Welfare Cause Terrorism?" Recent subjects of the series have included the Tsarnaev brothers of Boston marathon fame - yes, they had been on welfare.
A theme of many commenters has been the damage done to the rule of law by these executive orders covering things that most had thought required Congressional action to achieve -- the "most" including President Obama himself, caught on tape numerous times denying that he had the authority to do what he has just now done. Yes, there has been damage to the rule of law. But the real damage was done long ago, when Congress got the idea that it's OK to pass hundreds and hundreds of laws, some of them thousands of pages long, that nobody can possibly read and understand, and that the executive can't enforce more than a small part of. Examples: Obamacare -- well over 1000 pages; Dodd-Frank -- closer to 2000 pages.
How many federal crimes are there? Here is a Wall Street Journal article from 2011 describing an effort to get a count, where the counters ultimately gave up after coming up with around 3000 or so. Manufacturing a 100 watt incandescent light bulb? Installing a toilet of over 2 gallons flush? At some point nobody pays attention to this stuff any more.
Over at Powerline, John Hinderaker suggests that the next time there is a Republican President, he can have a lot of fun with the new Obama non-enforcement doctrine. How about announcing that the corporate income tax will no longer be enforced?
Under the Obama Non-Enforcement Doctrine, a president can’t enact new laws by decree, but he can exercise his discretion by not enforcing existing laws. This means that the doctrine is a one-way ratchet with an inherently libertarian bent. Given a little thought, conservatives could come up with a long list of laws that we would be better off without. Each one would be a candidate for the Obama Non-Enforcement Doctrine.
Hinderaker predicts that the Democrats will soon cry "uncle" if a Republican President should try such a tactic. Perhaps they would propose a Constitutional amendment, such as a requirement that the President "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Oh, wait a minute, he's pulling your leg -- that's what the Constitution already says (Article 2, Section 3). Problem is, there aren't enough people in the universe to accomplish the job.