Obama, Immigration, and 'Electoral Caudillismo'

By Mark Krikorian on February 3, 2016

[This is a short piece by me that appears in today's issue of the Latin America Advisor, published by the Inter-American Dialogue.]

In June, the Supreme Court will drop an immigration bomb into the middle of the presidential campaign.

That's when it is expected to rule on the 26-state lawsuit challenging President Obama's edict granting work permits and Social Security numbers to as many as four million illegal aliens who have U.S.-citizen or legal-resident children. This legalization program proposed by Obama is ostensibly temporary, but is understood by everyone to be de facto permanent; revoking lawful work permits from four people is easy, but from four million is essentially impossible.

At issue is not the president's authority to set priorities for deportation. It's not likely he will deport many of the people in question anyway; deportations from the interior have dropped by more than two-thirds since 2011. And the much-lamented "raids" on Central American families have resulted in a mere 77 removals so far.

Rather, the key issue is whether the Constitution's requirement that a president "take care that the laws be faithfully executed" has any meaning, or whether he can simply ignore laws he dislikes. This will be important for U.S. immigration policy, of course. If the Supreme Court were to back Obama, future immigration decisions would become much more integrated into foreign policy, with the president having the freedom to admit (through something called "parole") or legalize essentially anyone he wants, without the need to consult the people's elected representatives.

But more broadly, the court's ruling could influence the evolution of the U.S. political system toward something more like electoral caudillismo than the separation of powers established by the founders of the republic.