The New York Times has reported that that President Obama could, in the weeks ahead, exercise his executive authority to defer prosecution of, and issue work permits to, millions of undocumented individuals living in the shadows. By most accounts, President Obama intends to redeploy resources to the border in an effort to address the recent surge of unaccompanied minors crossing into the United States illegally. Parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who have resided in the United States for some (as-yet undefined) period of time would appear to be the primary beneficiaries of a so-called "reprieve" program.
A shift of focus from interior enforcement to border security would not, as some have claimed, amount to "amnesty" for law-breakers. It is a fundamental principle of our democracy that only Congress can make the laws; President Obama cannot just wake up one day and decide to give people green cards. Indeed, the next President who takes office could undo any temporary immigration reprieve initiatives, including the successful Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, potentially leaving millions vulnerable to immigration enforcement.
Might President Obama overstep his constitutional authority by engaging in unilateral action on immigration reform?
Possibly yes. As one commentator has pointed out, there is a fair case to be made that the President, being a lawyer himself, should understand the need for executive restraint when it comes to acting alone to make structural changes to the immigration system. It is just too bad that the same Republicans who have refused to vote on the bi-partisan comprehensive immigration reform bill which passed the Senate last year should be the ones to deliver that argument.
Timothy D. Widman is a Immigration Attorney and the owner of the Law Office of Timothy D. Widman, with offices in San Jose and Cupertino.