Monday, August 27, 2012

The Rule of Law and the Obama Administration

Two key components of the Obama Administration's immigration policy are: prioritized enforcement and prosecutorial discretion; in other words ICE is now focused on apprehending "individuals who pose a threat to public safety such as criminal aliens and national security threats..." and will halt deportation proceedings on a case-by-case basis against undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria, such as those who came to the United States before they were 16 years of age.

 At a quick glance, these policies make sense. Law enforcement agencies must prioritize the use of limited resources; greater attention must be directed towards apprehending violent criminals than catching those who violate traffic laws. They can determine that it would be an unwise use of resources to direct their officers to actively seek to apprehend individuals solely for the violation of immigration laws. However, the rule of law dictates that if in the course of their duty, a police officer happens to witnesses a "low priority crime", such as a driver passing a red light or a teenager stealing a candy bar, they must take the necessary steps to enforce the law. And if in the course of arresting an individual for (let's say) driving under the influence of alcohol, the police department discovered that they were not residing in the country legally, it is their duty to report them to immigration authorities. The same principles hold true for judges and prosecutors; while it is reasonable to exercise some discretion in passing judgement, such as factoring in if the individual has a spouse and children who are citizens, categorically refusing to prosecute violators of any law that exists on the books,
demonstrates a disregard for the rule of law.

Thus, the Obama Administration's new immigration policies can best be characterized as a piecemeal amnesty that circumvents the prerogative of the legislative branch. Even though  good arguments can be made for enacting the Dream Act, the manner in which the Obama Administration disregards the separation of powers and the rule of law that are central to our republic. Rather than erode enforcement, the president should seek to change laws through normal channels of the democratic process. Any significant change to policy should be openly debated and then subject to a vote in congress. More than anyone, supporters of comprehensive immigration reform should be extremely reserved about half measures pushed through by presidential fiat, because executive orders do not offer long term solutions for the dilemma that undocumented immigrants face, they can easily be overturned by future presidents, as well as the congress. An executive who pressures law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to exempt an entire category of individuals from a law, for cheap political gain, is befitting of a corrupt third world state, not the United States of America.

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