I don’t know what the president is planning to propose on immigration policy and neither does Ross Douthat. Mr. Douthat assumes that the president is going to propose a change in enforcement policy that is substantial enough that it will be equivalent to the “granting of temporary legal status, by executive fiat, to up to half the country’s population of illegal immigrants.”
I don’t know where Mr. Douthat is getting that number, but it should be uncontroversial that the Executive Branch can set priorities. It is completely reasonable, for example, to instruct our agencies to focus first on deporting people who have some kind of criminal record and only later focus on kids who were brought here through no fault of their own.
If the administration tells Congress that it needs a few billion dollars in order to enforce our immigration laws in a humane way, and Congress leaves town without appropriating any of the money that the administration requested, it should be even less controversial that the Executive Branch will need to make even more tough decisions about how to enforce the law. Less money is available to deal with undocumented workers in the interior of the country if that money must be diverted to deal with unaccompanied minors from Central American who have shown up at our Mexican border in the tens of thousands.
Mr. Douthat thinks that the administration is cynically raising the specter of impeachment to raise money and motivate the Democratic base, but he’s going right along with the right-wing narrative that the president is intending to act in an unprecedented and lawless way by granting amnesty to half of the illegal immigrants residing in this country.
But the Republicans have forced the president’s hand. In the Senate, they filibustered all efforts to give the administration the money they requested, and in the House they passed a bill that allocated only a small fraction of the money that was requested and made sure to make the bill as unpalatable to Democrats as possible. Go ask the House Republicans and they will freely admit that the bill they passed was never intended to become the law. It was passed simply so they could try to plausibly argue that they did something.
Without the money it needs, the administration must set priorities. The Republicans won’t like those priorities but it’s their own damn fault that those priorities have to be set.