Last week President Obama, who had been threatening to issue a new executive order on immigration, suddenly backed off, saying he’d revisit the subject after the elections.
This seems transparently political to us and everyone else — and on Meet the Press on Sunday, Obama sort of admitted it was. But is it good politics — that is, helpful at the polls? From the reaction of rightbloggers, we can see a case for it.
You may recall that in June of 2013, Congress was working on an immigration bill that seemed doomed to failure — the Democratic Senate passed it and even got 14 Republicans to join, but the Republican House eventually blocked it. President Obama stole a march on them with an executive memo, authorizing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), that made it harder for some immigrants to be thrown out. Conservatives were angry about that, and some accused Obama of acting illegally, including such advocates for limited executive authority as Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Bush advisor John Yoo.
The subject has roiled on and off since, especially when Obama hinted some weeks ago that he might take more unilateral action, prompting more cries of tyranny etc.
Prior to this, conservatives had not been monolithic on the subject of immigration. One side might be characterized as the “great, more cheap labor!” camp, led by the Wall Street Journal, where global supervillain Rupert Murdoch recently came out for immigration reform.
Murdoch acknowledged “the fear some Americans have, quite naturally, of how changing populations might also change our culture, communities and economic circumstances,” but he urged these poor goobers to think, not of Mexicans waiting in the Home Depot parking lot to steal their yardwork assignments, but of software engineers, entrepreneurs (“28% of all new American businesses started in 2011 were founded by immigrants”), and himself: “I chose to come to America and become a citizen because America was — and remains — the most free and entrepreneurial nation in the world,” Murdoch wrote and no editor dared send back with a note saying “You sure it wasn’t the money?”
Last week, just before Obama backed off, the Journal ran a Miriam Jordan article called “Immigrants Benefit From White House Initiative,” leading with the story of “UC Berkeley-educated civil engineer Mario Lio,” who until recently “had to work as a math tutor and restaurant worker to make ends meet,” but who thanks to DACA is now “a project engineer for a Bay Area firm that helped build the new Levi’s Stadium for the San Francisco 49ers.”
Jordan ran through the pros and cons of the issue (“DACA foes say its extension to a wider group by the president would be an abuse of executive authority”), and closed with the story of “Oscar, an illegal immigrant” who “has a dual degree in urban studies and political science from the University of California, Berkeley, but does restaurant work and odd jobs to support himself” because DACA as presently constituted doesn’t cover him. “I am waiting for legislation or relief that will make it possible for me to give back to this country,” he told Jordan.
Then Sally Struthers appeared to ask us to donate to the Children of HB1 — sorry, we drifted off for a moment there. Anyway, while the pro-immigration conservatives are pretty straight-forwardly looking to depress U.S. wages with foreign intellectual laborers who’ll work for candy bars and a warm place to sleep, the anti-immigration ones have more mixed, emotional motivations. Sure, they express concern for the effect of immigrants on the wages of homegrown American, but usually with at least a little weird xenophobia mixed in.
Take Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of the generally anti-immigrant National Review, who in 2007, when an earlier immigration bill was before Congress, claimed a “Senate friend” complained that undocumented Mexicans were “walking around unabated in the United States Capitol… Why, if you’re trying to make the case for amnesty, would you remind people of the local 7-11, where you sometimes can’t get to your car for all the day laborers?”
In 2011, in one of his essays about how America is coming apart at the seams, Walter Russell Mead of The American Interest explained that “many believe that the federal government and the (largely white) upper middle class establishment wants to marginalize the traditional white majority in the US through a combination of deliberate immigration policy aimed at reducing white preponderance in the population and by favoring immigrants and non-whites for education and employment.” This is polite-rightblogger for “We’re gonna be a white minority/We won’t listen to the majority.”
In June 2013, when the most recent bill was before the Senate, Tea Party Senator Mike Lee published an op-ed called “The ‘Gang of Eight’ bill is an immigration version of Obamacare,” in which he claimed “like the president’s health care law, the ‘gang’ bill was negotiated in secret by insiders and special interests, who then essentially offered it to Congress as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition… However well-intentioned, the ‘Gang of Eight’ bill is just an immigration version of Obamacare.” So, if you don’t like Obamacare, you shouldn’t like Mexicans either. (Lee’s alternative: “First, let’s secure the border,” and “make sure we’re letting in the immigrants our economy needs” before getting to that “justice, compassion and sensitivity” crap.)
And if any conservatives were thinking, well, at least Mexicans are Catholic, National Review‘s Mark Krikorian explained that they might as well not be: studies show you can’t even trust them to vote against gay marriage! “Both by importing faithful Democratic voters and through sheer numbers creating more safe leftist seats in local and state and federal legislatures, mass immigration empowers statism and cultural leftism,” wrote Krikorian. “Conservative outreach to immigrants already here is imperative, and might make a difference at the margins, but it’s not going to change the fundamental reality that immigrants are, by definition, predominantly Democrats,” just in case they needed another reason to hate them.
Pro or anti as they might be about immigration, though, conservatives all hate Obama, so when he floated new action on immigration last month they united to denounce it.
John Hinderaker of Power Line asked, “IS BARACK OBAMA PLOTTING A COUP?” Even before the immigrant thing, Hinderaker explained, “when Obama changed the Affordable Care Act by decree — to name just one example, substituting ‘2014’ for ‘2013’ in a critical provision of the statute — he acted as a tyrant.” Remember, Hitler used to switch deadlines all the time, too.
Anyway, Hinderaker continued, bad as that was, “in his refusal to enforce the immigration laws.. he has acted like a tinpot dictator, asserting the right to change or ignore the law by fiat… if he now directly nullifies Section 274(a) of the Immigration and Nationalities Act by legalizing, and issuing work permits to, five or six million illegal immigrants, thereby repealing federal law by decree, how else can we describe his action but as a coup?”
An immigration EO “would be an extraconstitutional coup, entirely justifying the impeachment talk” that conservatives are constantly having, said Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit. “Actually, it might justify more. I can imagine governors — Rick Perry, perhaps — simply taking matters into their own hands. They’d have a better argument for self-help there under the Constitution — Article I sec. 10′s authorization to go to war when actually invaded, or in such danger as will admit of no delay — and the federal government’s default on its duty under the Constitution to protect them from invasion. There’s a lot of room for constitutional self-help there, and realistically what’s Obama going to do about it?” Yee-haw, the South’s gonna do it again!
A Wall Street Journal editorial expectedly tweaked the anti-immigration Republicans, but acknowledged “Obama’s cynical handling of the border problem… What he really wants is the immigration issue to bash Republicans and drive Hispanic and other minority turnout in states like Colorado that could determine Senate control.” It was as if the Journal were trying to convince the antis to turn pro by promising that would make things so much worse for Obama.
A great temptation! As it happened, they needn’t have bothered: Obama punted last Friday. He did so pretty obviously because the controversy around the very possibility of executive action made it very dangerous for Democrats in this years’ races. John Boehner seemed to think so too, saying the decision “to simply delay this deeply-controversial and possibly unconstitutional unilateral action… smacks of raw politics.” So did Obama’s fellow Democrats who are invested in the issue and disappointed in his decision.
Who knows how it’ll work out. Rightbloggers did what they could to make sure it wouldn’t, but they didn’t seem to have much to work with.
Accentuating the negative, the Daily Caller headlined, “Obama: Unilateral Amnesty ‘Soon,’ Likely After Election.” In another headline they referred to his “Immigration Edict.” (The best of the headlines was from the Washington Times: “Obama: I’ll ignore the Constitution — but only after the election.”)
“President Obama’s announcement that he is going to delay his executive action on immigration shows that even his own administration realizes its constitutional transgressions,” said John Yoo — yes, the guy who provided George Bush with legal justifications for torture — at National Review.
“The point is to ensure that voters aren’t making a fully informed choice when they go to the polls this fall,” said Allahpundit of Hot Air, who did his best to make up for that informational shortfall: “That might turn out badly for the left, so the king is once again exercising his royal prerogative to shield them from political difficulty,” he continued. “Just like he did repeatedly in moving statutory deadlines around for ObamaCare.”
If Obama Tyrannus isn’t enough to get your blood boiling, Allahpundit also suggested Obama might be colluding with Republican traitors. “What if Obama’s delaying the big amnesty announcement until the lame-duck session not just to spare Democrats from electoral blowback but because he thinks Boehner might be willing to pass some sort of comprehensive bill once his caucus is safely out of electoral harm’s way?” he posited. “Electing a Republican Senate majority and then having the Republican House turn around and sell out the base on immigration would be the ultimate political groin-punch…” Similarly, what if they all turned out to be aliens? We mean from outer space, not Mexico — though patriots shouldn’t put anything past them; maybe that birth certificate was a phony after all!
Some of the brethren took it in stride. “A new GOP message for the midterms: November is your last chance to send a message to President Obama to not unilaterally rewrite America’s immigration policy!” ventured Jim Geraghty of National Review. “President Obama won’t take executive action on immigration until after the November elections, but it’s not likely to help him anyway,” said Brian Hughes at the Washington Examiner.
But Amy Miller of Legal Insurrection was more nervous. “Although this gives Republicans time to develop their own cohesive approach to securing the border and reforming existing law,” she wrote, possibly while laughing at her own audacity, “it’s important to remember that the thing democrats are best at is controlling the emotional narrative.” She didn’t say why that might be — maybe she thinks most Americans are more sentimental about people who risk everything to come to America than Republicans are.
Probably the brethren’s most useful propaganda provender on this will be more general, like Sarah Jean Seman‘s TownHall story, “Illegal Immigrants’ Length of Stay in U.S. Nearly Doubles Since Last Decade.” “The rise of long-term residents has been encouraged by laws in the United States that make it easier for aliens to blend in and assimilate into American society,” Seman told her readers. “These include allowing illegal immigrants to obtain temporary drivers licenses, fly (probably with less hassle from TSA than most legal residents have), and to go to public school on your taxpayer dollar.”
That sort of thing will keep those so inclined to remain angry about immigration — as it would have in any case. We know there are an unlimited number of pixels on the internet, but even the hungriest consumer of political journalism can’t get to them all; as much as they tend to blur the border of fact and opinion, most rightbloggers probably know they can squeeze more out of what Obama has done than out of what they know he’s going to do. After all, we’ve been hearing for years that Obama is going to put everyone in FEMA camps and take away all our guns, and that hasn’t moved the needle much. So it may be that the President’s punt was cowardly, as Newt Gingrich called it — but it may also be effective.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 7, 2014