From ‘Yes we can’ to ‘Because I want to’

Dec 1, 2014
Opinion Editorial
By Rep. Lou Barletta, published in the Hazleton Standard Speaker, November 27, 2014

Barely 48 hours after President Barack Obama unilaterally granted amnesty to 5 million illegal immigrants, “Saturday Night Live” satirized the move in a remake of an old “Schoolhouse Rock” educational cartoon. 

In the sketch, Obama repeatedly shoved legislation (“Bill”) down the steps of the Capitol, displaying his contempt for the legislative process. Regrettably, the comedy writers at NBC have a better grasp on how a bill becomes a law under the U.S. Constitution than does the president of the United States. 

Viewers could be forgiven for barely recognizing the president who previously shouted “Yes we can!” to adoring crowds, but now says “Because I want to” when explaining his actions.

The president’s executive action directly usurps congressional authority for making laws and continues his habit of governing by fiat rather than through the legislative process. To that point, the president himself has emphatically agreed by stating more than 20 times that he did not have the legal authority to single-handedly rewrite immigration law in exactly the manner he now has done.

Through many public displays of hand-wringing, he complained that Congress had failed to send him legislation to his liking, but that his options were limited by the confines of the Constitution. Once the final mid-term elections of his presidency were behind him, however, he somehow discovered a new, previously undiscovered path to the unilateral power he once lamented he lacked.

In perhaps his most sweeping claim of authority, the president hides behind the concept of prosecutorial discretion in refusing to deport entire classes of people who are illegally present in this country. This is a flagrant abuse of this unique power, which ought to be employed on a case-by-case basis and not deployed as an across-the-board policy.

In addition, the administration is granting work permits to millions of illegal immigrants in a program contrary to the laws established by Congress. In this, the president is in violation of the “Take Care Clause” of the Constitution — Article II, Section 3 — which compels him to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

Equally suspect is the president’s assertion that his hand was forced by the inaction of Congress. This is false on its face, as the House has indeed acted by repeatedly rejecting many proposals similar to what the president has now done on his own.

In any event, the Constitution, in Article I, Section 8, expressly grants the legislature the sole authority to establish rules for naturalization. If the president is so frustrated by a legislature not willing to cede to his wishes, perhaps he should have taken advantage of the first two years of his presidency when his party controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress. 

In the days leading up to his announcement, Obama’s supporters claimed that the looming executive maneuver was nearly identical to previous actions taken by presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Such an obvious diversion ignores the fact that under those presidents there was already an underlying law that indicated the intent and will of the legislature. Any executive action was taken within that framework.

In Obama’s case, he has acted entirely without Congressional approval. He demanded legislation be sent to him to his exact specifications, and when he didn’t receive it, enacted his own policies by edict. That is not the way our system works. (Most telling, perhaps, is that the same people who argued that the president’s plan was routine executive behavior are now describing it as bold and historic. Both claims cannot be true.) 

Though the president has done damage to the Constitution and the rule of law, he has also exposed the nation to tangible harm as a result of his policies. His prediction that his amnesty will only cover 5 million illegal immigrants is laughably short, as history clearly demonstrates.

In the 1986 amnesty under Reagan, Americans were assured that there would only be 1.5 million people covered, but it turned out to be more than double that number once it was all finished, and the border was never secured as promised. There is no telling how many more people will be drawn to this country because of the renewed Obama promise of amnesty.

By granting work authorization to so many more people, the president has dramatically increased the competition for jobs that were already scarce. Millions of legal workers woke up this morning unable to find employment, and the amnesty program has dimmed their prospects even further. Low-income populations will be hit the hardest, which ought to come as a shock to those who heard the president promise hope for the struggling masses.

Strictly by the numbers, the amnesty program is a dismal failure: counting the 5 million covered under amnesty, and the 1.5 million people awarded work permits in 2013, the president has now created more new workers over the last year (6.5 million) than jobs since he took office (less than 6 million). Hope and change, indeed.

It will be impossible for the federal government to conduct adequate background checks on the 5 million receiving amnesty, which represents a serious threat to public safety and national security. We already know that in 2013 the administration released 36,000 criminal illegal aliens from custody, including 116 convicted of homicide, 43 convicted of voluntary manslaughter, and one convicted of something called “homicide-willful kill-public official-gun.” At a time when we know that terrorists are plotting to attack us here at home, to flood the system with people with untraceable backgrounds is irresponsible and threatens our safety.

With the case against President Obama’s amnesty clearly stated, many are asking what can be done to stop it. Congress has the power of the purse and must stand ready to use it. I have already called for the blocking of funding of the identification cards that would be supplied to those taking advantage of the president’s action. If it were crafted in the appropriate way, it would specifically pinpoint the amnesty-related expenditure while allowing all other functions of government to proceed.

To further oppose the president’s amnesty program, I have authored legislation, the Defense of Legal Workers Act, which will prohibit the government from issuing work permits to anyone who receives amnesty through executive action. 

It is most unfortunate that we have come to this as Americans, but we are left with little choice by a president who ran on the slogan of “Yes we can!” but governs by the philosophy of “Because I want to.”

Rep. Lou Barletta, a Republican, represents Pennsylvania’s 11th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.