Yesterday, I logged on to the New York Times to be greeted by an Op-Ed written by former Indiana Senator Richard Lugar. In it, he defended Presidential authority over immigration enforcement decisions.
That authority is currently being challenged by a number of Republican Governors (including–surprise!–Indiana’s Mike Pence) in a case before the Supreme Court.
In his op-ed, Indiana’s former Senator patiently explained the nature and extent of Presidential discretion over immigration, and the reasons Congress has historically granted the Commander-in-Chief that discretion.
[W]hether or not you like President Obama’s actions, he has operated under longstanding provisions of law that give the executive branch discretion in enforcement. This presidential prerogative has been recognized explicitly by the Supreme Court. Moreover, the nature of immigration enforcement and the resources (or lack thereof) appropriated by Congress necessitate exactly the type of choices that the president has made.
Lugar followed this observation with citations to Supreme Court cases, Congressional measures, and similar discretionary decisions by previous Presidents of both parties . And in what can only be read as a reproach to the GOP’s current Presidential contenders–all of whom profess support for mass deportations–he wrote:
The immense moral and legal consequences of a deportation campaign targeting up to 11 million undocumented immigrants are obvious. Even Americans whose frustration has overcome their compassion and led them to support the harshest immigration enforcement would be likely to reconsider if they actually saw such an operation in action.
A huge roundup like that would require an extraordinary expansion of federal law enforcement capabilities and resulting intrusions into American society. But in reality, there is no prospect for such a campaign because Congress has not made available more than a small fraction of the necessary money and manpower.
This is why, by its nature, immigration enforcement requires executive discretion.
Anyone who has followed Richard Lugar’s illustrious career knows how carefully he has always parsed his words, and how reluctant he has been to criticize other political figures–especially his fellow Republicans. (If you are looking for an exemplary example of civility, you can hardly do better than Dick Lugar.) That is why I was particularly struck by these paragraphs:
President Obama’s actions, therefore, are hardly unprecedented. There are two major differences. First, he gave speeches advocating for explicit programs with names, rather than relying on subtler agency direction.
Second, immigration policy has been caught up in today’s hyper-partisanship, where a strident anti-immigration tide within the Republican Party overwhelms all bipartisan compromise. All 26 state officials who have challenged the administration’s executive actions in the Supreme Court case are Republicans, and last month the G.O.P.-led House of Representatives voted to file an amicus brief on behalf of the entire House.
From these howls of outrage, you wouldn’t know that the Obama administration has vastly exceeded the deportations under President George W. Bush. And Mr. Bush vastly exceeded those of President Clinton. President Obama’s directives to focus enforcement efforts on those who have committed crimes in the United States and recent border crossers are a rational executive prioritization, given the resources and the realities…..
When the president took his executive action on immigration, he was not flouting the will of Congress; rather, he was using the discretion Congress gave him to fulfill his constitutional duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”
My own political involvement began with a long-ago effort to elect Dick Lugar Mayor of Indianapolis. Over the years, especially during his Senate tenure, he moved steadily to the Right on matters of domestic policy, and I came to disagree with him on several issues. Like most Hoosiers, however, I never doubted his intellect, his integrity, or his mastery of policy–especially foreign policy.
Even after he lost a primary election to a clueless culture warrior pandering to the GOP’s ever more rabid base, Lugar has continued to be supportive of his party, seemingly reluctant to criticize even those who are besmirching his legacy of thoughtful statesmanship. That reluctance makes yesterday’s op-ed even more significant.
When you look at the chasm–the abyss!– between a statesman like Dick Lugar and an in-over-his-head theocrat like Mike Pence, it’s enough to make a former Republican cry.