A few hours before announcing his new immigration policy, President Obama received an opinion blessing its legality from the Office of Legal Counsel. Regrettably, the OLC’s made-to-order legal analysis is shockingly flawed in five major respects.
First, the OLC justified the policy as a prioritization of government’s “limited resources.” But the executive order does more than prioritize. It rewrites existing law. Illegal immigrants won’t be deported if they aren’t a threat to national security, public safety or border security. Beyond these three categories, deportation may be pursued only if it serves an “important federal interest.”
Under current law, by contrast, anyone entering the U.S. illegally is a “deportable alien” who “shall, upon the order of the Attorney General, be removed.” The president’s policy transforms an entire category of aliens deemed deportable into two different categories, whereby some are deportable and some aren’t. This is a shift in kind, not merely degree.
A president prioritizing resources would do what previous presidents have done: enforce the entirety of immigration law, while allowing prosecutors to make case-by-case determinations. By announcing a global policy of nonenforcement against certain categories, Mr. Obama condones unlawful behavior, weakening the law’s deterrent impact, and allows lawbreakers to remain without fear of deportation. As he puts it, “All we’re saying is we are not going to deport you.” These individuals are no longer deportable, although Congress has declared them so.