Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Obama admits: “I changed the law”

When President Obama announced his executive actions on immigration before Thanksgiving, he claimed that his position on using presidential authority to change US immigration policy had not changed. The president had repeatedly denied that he had the authority to take such action in the past according to a Politifact analysis. Last week the president openly admitted that his executive actions changed US immigration law, a power that rests solely with Congress according to the Constitution.

The moment of clarity took place on Nov. 25 as the president spoke at an event in Chicago. As reported by NBC Chicago, three hecklers in the audience interrupted Mr. Obama’s speech to protest the deportation of immigrant families.

The president listened to the protesters for some time and then responded. The NBC video cuts short the president’s response, but a CSPAN video captures the Obama’s complete answer. After pleading for quiet, the president says:

I understand you may disagree, but we’ve got to be able to talk honestly about these issues. Now you are absolutely right that there have been significant numbers of deportations. That’s true. But what you are not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law. Now... so that’s point number one. Point number two, the way the change in the law works is that we are reprioritizing how we enforce our immigration laws generally.

Where the defenders of the president’s actions justified them on the grounds of “prosecutorial discretion,” a decision not to prosecute offenders, the president openly acknowledged that he “changed the law.” Under the Constitution, “all legislative powers” are “vested in a Congress.” Since changing the law is a legislative function, the president’s statement is tantamount to an admission that he exceeded his authority.

Moreover, there are limits to prosecutorial discretion. A White House Office of Legal Counsel memo that was released to provide legal cover for Obama’s actions stipulates that the president “cannot, under the guise of exercising enforcement discretion, attempt to effectively rewrite the laws to match its policy preferences.” The memo also states that to be lawful, non-enforcement decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis.

The president’s off-the-cuff comments in Chicago explicitly violate the parameters set by the White House memo. The president admits that he is changing immigration law “generally” in a manner that will affect “everyone.”


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