Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Immigration chaos a result of congressional inaction
“Energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks; it is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws…” — Alexander Hamilton
President Trump’s executive orders on immigration and border security offer a clear illustration of Hamilton’s point about “energy.” They are both a relief and a source of some ongoing concern. Relief lies in their undoing the mischief of his predecessor’s use to render parts of our immigration laws null and void; concern, in the ongoing use of administrative fiat to address the inaction of a Congress either too supine or too self-absorbed to concern itself with laws protecting the citizenry.
One must always weigh intent; here one sees a gulf between the orders of President Trump and those of his predecessor. While Barack Obama sought to ameliorate, evade or suspend the operation of the laws — consider both “Priority Enforcement” and “Deferred Adjudication” — Donald Trump has called for renewed and vigorous enforcement of laws cited in his orders. That is both a distinction and a difference.
Consider the “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” order, signed on Jan. 25. It directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to begin immediately to construct a “physical barrier” (fence and/or wall) on our southern border; to begin immediately to identify, arrest and deport those here illegally; and provides the means to do so through already-existing funds and mechanisms. It also mandates regular public release of statistics on crimes committed by criminal aliens, by jurisdiction throughout the United States — a prospect likely to make some politicians who embrace the “sanctuary” movement nervous.
It does these things and more in accordance with specific and cited portions of various current laws, including the Immigration and Nationality Act, sometimes called the INA; the Secure Fence Act of 2006, passed in that year as part of an “immigration reform” package and subsequently forgotten; and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.
Then there’s “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” signed the same day. It directs Homeland Security and other federal agencies to “ensure faithful execution of immigration laws,” citing relevant statutes. It directs federal efforts to prioritize removal of criminal aliens, according to INA criteria, as described. It replaces the 2014 “Priority Enforcement Provisions” which gave protection against immigration law to the so-called “Dreamers” — illegal residents who entered as small children — with the earlier “Secure Communities” program. It reiterates separately the call for greater federal-state cooperation on enforcement of immigration laws and notes that both the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security have the power to declare willfully non-cooperating jurisdictions “sanctuary jurisdictions.” Federal funds will be withheld from these, except as mandated by law for public security or law enforcement programs. Finally, it calls for weekly public reports on arrests and deportations, beginning within 90 days.
Some might find the suspension of funds provision questionable: It could be seen as a punishment of one group of citizens for the crimes of another, unrelated, group. It will be popular with the American public nonetheless, and in any contest with the federal government, defiant local pols might quickly come to regret their choice. “Aux barricades!” may be stirring, but punishingly expensive. Particularly if the charge is “knowingly abetting an ongoing criminal conspiracy.”
Another concern is the necessity for executive orders, made so by Congress’ studious inertia. In a properly functioning federal system, Congress would quickly provide three things to address our currently-broken immigration system: First, employer requirements for I-9s should be melded with existing Federal “Real ID” statutes to ensure a permanent, convenient, secure and readily available proof of identity and eligibility for work for all who seek employment in the U.S. No, a social security card does not suffice. Second, prohibitive penalties for businesses caught hiring ineligible workers without due diligence. Third, since a large number of illegal residents enter on visas, then overstay, a system to monitor and reconcile both visa entries and exits. With rigorous enforcement.
These are all simple laws, extant in many countries from Japan to Mexico to Australia. There’s no good reason our Congress couldn’t pass them all in a week. But they won’t, because too many in Congress are beholden to too many special interests. So the Executive Orders will continue.
That is where the energy is, today.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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