When laws aren't enforced

By Jan Ting on August 4, 2014

Philly.com, August 4, 2014

While walking past City Hall in Cambridge, Mass., recently, I noticed this inscription above the main entrance:

God has given Commandments unto Men. From these Commandments Men have framed Laws by which to be governed. It is honorable and praiseworthy to faithfully serve the people by helping to administer these Laws. If the Laws are not enforced, the People are not well governed.

That quote made me think of President Obama's decision to not enforce the nation's immigration laws.

Congress has resisted the president's call for so-called immigration reform that would provide amnesty to most illegal aliens. In response, Obama has announced a policy of prosecutorial discretion toward those who are here illegally. His policy means that, in effect, just being in the United States in violation of our immigration laws is no longer a priority for enforcement. Only convicted felons and national security risks are now high priorities for removal. So the majority of illegal aliens in the United States are no longer priorities for removal.

Through executive order, the president has unilaterally decided that illegal aliens who entered the country before age 16 were not responsible for their illegal entry, and can receive work authorization and not be subject to removal. As a result, more than 550,000 people have been approved for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) since 2012. The president is now said to be considering the expansion of that program to the parents of DACA beneficiaries. This would reward people who deliberately brought their children to the United States in violation of our immigration laws.

In light of such policies, is it any wonder that there is a flood of aliens crossing our border illegally, including record numbers of minors? More than 57,000 illegal aliens have been classified by the administration as unaccompanied minors since October, with 90,000 total projected to arrive by the end of September.

The president claims that in dealing with these young arrivals, his hands are tied by a 2008 statute aimed at protecting "unaccompanied alien children" who are, or are at risk of becoming, victims of trafficking.

But an analysis published by the Center for Immigration Studies points out three ways the administration is misreading that statute as another excuse for nonenforcement of immigration law.

First, federal law defines "unaccompanied alien child" as an illegal alien under 18 years old who is without "a parent or legal guardian in the United States." Federal data confirms that many, if not most, of the unaccompanied minors arriving illegally in the United States are trying to join parents or other relatives already here (also illegally).

Second, the 2008 statute is to protect children from becoming victims of trafficking, which involves coercion or exploitation. But the federal government's own data confirms that many, if not most, of the unaccompanied minors who have been arriving illegally are being smuggled voluntarily into the country to join parents or relatives.

Finally, the 2008 statute provides that its procedural requirements should apply "except in the case of exceptional circumstances." Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) noted in a public hearing that this provision would allow the president discretion in applying the law to the current influx of illegal immigration.

What if a future president wants to cut income-tax rates to a flat 10 percent, but Congress refuses to go along? Could the president exercise prosecutorial discretion to announce that taxpayers refusing to pay taxes at the statutory rate would not be a priority for enforcement as long as they paid 10 percent? Through his discretionary prosecution of immigration laws, that is where President Obama is leading the country