By now most people know the president – actually the secretary of Homeland Security – issued orders in November allowing about 5 million people who were in the country illegally to stay. If he had stopped there, this column might have been about the relative merits (or demerits) of doing that. However, he also did several other things, including giving those same people the right to work. That is something else entirely.
A lot of people have taken the position the president does not have the constitutional authority to do that unilaterally. I am one of those people. In a bizarre twist, so is the president – who said publicly no fewer than 22 times he did not have the authority to do, you know, what he just did.
Anyway, a few of us in the House tried to stop what has come to be known as executive amnestyin December, by using the power of the purse to deny the president funding to carry out his orders. However, for various reasons, not the least of which was the fact the Senate at that time was still controlled by Democrats, the so-called Mulvaney Amendment died in committee.
Instead, the House waited until January to pass a bill to take away the money. That bill is being debated in the Senate. There is certainly an argument – albeit a tenuous one – that the Senate might defund executive amnesty. After all, executive amnesty is not popular in many Democratic-leaning states (one reason the president waited until after the 2014 midterm elections to take action).
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Additionally, even Democrats who approve of what the president did, chafe at the way he did it. An imperial presidency could rankle Republicans and Democrats alike, and some in his party have complained (loudly) about him going around the Senate on the Bergdahl prisoner exchange and (more quietly) about his actions regarding Cuba. So the idea of getting 60 votes in the Senate may not yet be a dead letter. All of that aside, the conventional wisdom is it cannot pass that chamber, as it would take 60 votes to do so and the GOP controls 54 seats.
Against that backdrop, the House has inexplicably started debating border security. And I say inexplicably as someone who supports new border security legislation. To do so now simply muddies the water about the issue at hand: the funding for the amnesty.
To make matters more confusing, the border security bill the House is considering, while using strong language, appears at first to be short on teeth. Put another way, it makes the law tougher, but doesn’t do anything to make sure the president – any president – enforces it. If you add to that the fact the bill isn’t paid for and just adds to the debt, you get a bill that is hard to love.
So, then, here is the lay of the land: the Senate probably won’t defund executive amnesty, and the House is poised to pass a toothless border security bill. What that translates into is effectively amnesty now, border security later. If this sounds familiar, it is almost exactly the same general outcome of the last immigration amnesty from the 1980s. We have all seen how well that worked in solving immigration problems.
I support immigration reform. I have said before I do not think it is reasonable to assume we are going to round up 12 million people and ship them home. separating 18-month-old (citizen) children from their parents and disabled Iraq War veterans from their spouses.
We need border security – real, enforceable border security – first. That will help solve the issue of how people get here illegally.
Then, we need to fix immigration, because it is much too hard for hardworking, productive people from all around the world to get here legally. That will help solve the issue of why people try to get here illegally.
Then, and only then, can we address the status of the people who are here.
Giving in to the dangerous precedent of executive amnesty and spinning our wheels on meaningless border security bills, accomplishes none of that.
Mick Mulvaney is US Congressman for South Carolina's 5th District.