Guest Editorial: Court can't fix immigration
The high-stakes showdown between the White House and Congress before the Supreme Court focused all three branches of government on one of the most dysfunctional systems in America: Immigration.
Too bad it wasn’t a more productive meeting of great minds.
The court’s decision cannot resolve the situation in which 11 million people live and work in this country without legal status.
Obama’s executive action represented only a temporary and incomplete answer for about 4 million parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.
If the court upholds Obama’s action, it remains a temporary, partial solution.
Ditto if the court decides Texas and the 25 other states – including Arizona – do not have standing to sue because they cannot show direct and concrete injury from Obama’s actions.
If a court reduced to eight members after the death of Antonin Scalia reaches a tie vote, the injunction that blocked Obama’s action remains in force. Deferred Action for Parents of Americans will be dead.
But the question of what to do about undocumented parents of U.S. citizen children will remain an American heartache.
Ditto if the court strikes down the rule, saying Obama exceeded his authority.
No matter how this comes down, it will be a detour to a dead end.
Only Congress can fix this, and Congress has remained captive to a narrow band of extremist, nativist obstructionists who oppose anything but escalating the current enforcement-only approach.
No matter what the court does, it will be gasoline on the already fiery presidential and down-ticket campaigns.
But those for whom the stakes are highest are not politicians or judges.
They are hard-working, vulnerable people who live in the shadows of a country their labors help enrich. They are mothers and fathers. Their future hangs in the balance as politicians play this for votes.
Arguably, if Congress had done its job years ago to reform a fatally flawed immigration system, Obama would not have taken the executive action the Supreme Court is reviewing.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said Obama exceeded his authority by going around Congress to confer temporary “lawful presence” on those who met the criteria outlined in the deferred action program.
The administration argues that DAPA is justified because Congress appropriates only enough to deport about 400,000 people a year. There is a historic precedent for making choices and setting priorities at the executive level.
"We have basically 10 million, nine hundred thousand people that cannot be deported because there's not enough resources,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor. "So they are here whether we want them or not."
The administration’s position that it is merely exercising prosecutorial discretion was challenged by attorneys for those who want DAPA thrown out.
They said discretion could be applied to individuals, but Obama was conferring “lawful presence” on an entire class of people.
"Congress has to grant the statutory authority first for the executive to be able to act," said Scott A. Keller, the Texas state solicitor general who spoke for the 26 states challenging Obama’s authority. The House of Representatives is also challenging Obama’s rule.
While those at the highest levels of government spar over legal and technical questions, millions of families with roots in this country face the very real threat of being broken up by deportation.
The human and political stakes don’t get much higher than this faceoff at the Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, the court’s action – expected this summer – will not resolve the problem.
What’s needed is the kind of political courage we have not seen in Congress for some time.