On Sunday, President Obama tried to explain why his decision to violate his duty to faithfully execute the laws on immigration, in plain defiance of the constitutional separation of powers, won’t pave the way for future presidents to do the same on tax laws. It didn’t go well:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, THIS WEEK: How do you respond to the argument, a future president comes in, wants lower taxes. Doesn’t happen. Congress won’t do it — he says I’m not going to prosecute those who don’t pay capital gains tax.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, the truth of the matter is, George, that the reason that we have to do prosecutorial discretion in immigration is that we know we are not even close to being able to deal with the folks who have been here a long time. The vast majority of folks understand that they need to pay taxes, and when we conduct an audit, for example, we are selecting those folks who are most likely to be cheating. We’re not going after millions and millions of people who everybody knows are here and were taking advantage of low wages as they’re mowing lawns or cleaning out bedpans, and looking the other way — but then you got politicians suddenly going out there saying, suggesting somehow that we should be deporting all of them. Everybody knows, including Republicans, that we’re not going to deport 11 million people.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you don’t think it’d be legitimate for a future president to make that argument?
OBAMA: With respect to taxes? Absolutely not. But what is true — what is true today is we don’t audit every single person, but we still expect that people are going to go ahead and follow the law. And we have limited resources, we have to make sure that we prioritize those folks who are most dangerous and we should acknowledge what everybody has already acknowledged through their actions — and Congress acknowledges through their budget — which is we’re not in the business of deporting millions of people or breaking up families.
Obama, however, hasn’t simply said he’ll prioritize deporting certain illegal immigrants over others. He has lawlessly decreed that roughly 5 million illegal immigrants of his own choosing are now free to stay, and he is in the process of unilaterally issuing them work permits. He has declared, with respect to these roughly 5 million people, that the immigration laws on the books won’t apply.
This is actually quite similar to a future president (or this one) using the excuse that we cannot enforce tax laws against everyone to declare that 5 million people of his choosing will not have to pay taxes — the tax laws be damned.
In regard to a president doing this on taxes, Obama now says, “Absolutely not.” But in the third year of his presidency, Obama said absolutely not on immigration — before deciding that “absolutely not” did not apply to him. Here’s Obama in 2011:
“With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed….[W]e’ve got three branches of government. Congress passes the law. The executive branch’s job is to enforce and implement those laws. And then the judiciary has to interpret the laws. There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply through executive order ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as President.”
Our constitutional republic cannot function if the linchpin role that the president must play in executing the laws is not faithfully performed. So what should Congress do?
Before the New Year, it should pass a short-term continuing resolution, extending until January, that doesn’t fund the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that Obama is relying on to carry out his lawless decree. Yuval Levin discusses this quite well at NRO: