Amnesty by Obama would have consequences for Democrats

The words “deportation relief” jumped out at me from Greg Sargent’s Washington Post blog posting titled “Get ready for a titanic battle over immigration.” Those two words seem so benign compared with “amnesty” — the preferred usage in the GOP lexicon — but that is their meaning.

President Barack Obama was dangling a promise to issue an executive order to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation before the end of the summer; the order would be so big, an aide boasted, that Republicans might try to impeach Obama. Then the White House had to revise the promise — with a new plan to act after the midterm elections. This is a pledge the White House should delay again. As a lame-duck Congress convenes, it would be a big mistake for the president to legalize the presence of millions of undocumented immigrants with the stroke of a pen.

Now the president has to deal with a cold wind come to Washington. The latest Gallup poll shows that a modest 36 percent of voters have a favorable view of the Democratic Party. Republicans enjoy higher numbers — 42 percent — for the first time since 2011. It’s time to back off. As Obama himself famously said, “elections have consequences.”

House Speaker John Boehner told reporters, “I’ve made clear to the president that if he acts unilaterally on his own outside of his authority, he will poison the well, and there will be no chance for immigration reform moving in this Congress.” Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell warned that an executive order would be “like waving a red flag in front of a bull.”

Some Democrats are pushing for the president to sign a big order now and seal the party’s hold on Latino and Asian voters. An ABC News/Washington Post exit poll found that 64 percent of midterm voters favor a policy to allow employed undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status. So these partisans may think that a White House action would enhance their standing with most voters.

If so, I don’t think the good feelings would last long. After the president signed his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to shield from deportation undocumented immigrants who came here as children, there were 68,000 unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border in fiscal 2014. Then polls showed that 53 percent of Americans wanted the government to speed up deportation of asylum seekers. What happens if the president, by the stroke of a pen, legalizes the presence of millions of undocumented adults? You make something legal, you get more of it. Surge 2.0.

Obama argues that though he prefers to work with Congress, “what we can’t do is just keep on waiting.” He doesn’t have to wait; he can work the issue — for once.

In two years, there will be a new president, perhaps a Republican. Do Democrats want to have bolstered the argument that presidents may act unilaterally — and bypass laws passed by Congress — because they cannot get Congress to play along?

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley warned this summer about an “uber-presidency”: “The president’s pledge to effectively govern alone is alarming, and what is most alarming is his ability to fulfill that pledge. When a president can govern alone, he can become a government unto himself, which is precisely the danger the Framers sought to avoid.”

Email Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com.

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