There is the matter of arbitrariness. Obama’s defense of his action is sweeping and unqualified. We are not a nation that “accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms.” Unless, of course, they arrived less than five years ago. A moral rule is apparently bounded by a bureaucratic line. And an appeal intended to put Republicans on the defensive also puts Hillary Clinton on the spot. One possible news conference question: “Madam Secretary, if an American president has the unilateral power to remove people from the shadows, why not people who arrived during the Obama years?”
There is also the matter of implementation. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services processes about 4 million cases of all kinds each year. Now as many as 4 million applications — involving documentation of the arbitrary five-year limit — will be added over an indeterminate period of time. The office, which is currently overwhelmed, has six months to prepare for the onslaught. Opportunities for fraud and exploitation will certainly multiply. Will the lines for services provided to legal immigrants lengthen? An actual legislative debate might have clarified these challenges, particularly in light of the administration’s Obamacare and Veterans Affairs debacles.
The American political system not only lacks action; it lacks deliberation. On immigration, Obama has provided the first by circumventing the second — and provided a precedent for other presidents to avoid deliberation on other matters. During campaign-like events, Obama has made a strong case for immigration reform legislation, employing arguments that could have been made (and were) by George W. Bush. He has not made a case for short-circuiting the legislative process, except for noting that Congress has not acted in the way he wants, on the time line he prefers. It is an Augustinian ploy, made from a Jimmy Carter-like political position.