Should Barack Obama Enforce Immigration Laws?

No More Xenophobic Injustice

By John Lee

Any US leader, Barack Obama included, should protect the freedom of movement and residence of all people subject to US government authority.

The legal specifics of Obama’s current immigration policies aside, there is a long history of US presidents exercising vast discretion in granting safe passage or refusing to deport migrants.

Obama should use all institutional channels he has to minimize the legal bars to peaceful migration. These laws prevent peaceful travel, separate families, and unjustly deprive people of the wages and opportunities they would command in a free and fair market.

Obama has sworn to uphold the US Constitution, including as it pertains to immigration laws, and he does not have the power to change legislation directly. I cannot fault him for failing to do something only Congress can legally do.

However, as a political leader, Obama also has a moral duty to uphold the principles of justice. And under US legal precedent, he has discretion in how he enforces immigration laws. When a law is morally wrong, Obama has both the ethical responsibility and the enforcement power to minimize its injustice.

The immigration laws of the United States and most nations punish people for something they had no choice over: where they were born. No matter how good, intelligent, hardworking, or loyal they might be, the laws treat non-natives as parasites, invaders, or worse.

It is taken for granted that migrants do not have rights — merely privileges that governments may deign to grant them. Even ties of family and community are, in many cases, not enough to protect you from the immigration authorities.

The modern passport and deportation regimes terrorize and impoverish millions of innocent people, and for what purpose? Merely to punish these people for not being born in the right place, and daring to surpass the conditions of their birth.

This is not some run-of-the-mill policy issue. The government effectively deprives people of the opportunity to rent a home in a safe neighborhood, apply for a job that pays fair wages, and live among the loved ones they wish to be closest to.

All this, solely because they were born on the other side of an imaginary line. That imaginary line may be important for demarcating political boundaries, but that does not mean it should be tightly sealed and controlled.

The United States had open borders for over a century after its founding. US history itself shows that popular fears of open borders leading to catastrophe or invasion are ill-founded.

As head of the bureaucracy charged with enforcing these unjust and xenophobic laws, Obama’s options are limited. He cannot repeal bigoted laws by himself. But he has the leeway to choose enforcement and regulatory procedures that minimize the injustice of these terrible laws. He has a bully pulpit he can use to challenge them.

Obama must use all options he has to fight for freedom of movement. The chief purpose of government is to dispense justice. Obama has a duty to see that justice is done to all under his authority — irrespective of whom they were born to, or where they are from.

John Lee is a regular blogger and administrator at Open Borders: The Case. Born in Japan to a Malaysian father and Filipino mother, he has lived, worked, and studied in six different countries, but Malaysia will always be home for him. He currently resides in San Francisco, California. Follow @johnleemk.

The Rule of Law Comes First

By Hana Fischer

EspañolIn my assessment, there is no doubt that Barack Obama is obliged to enforce the immigration laws of the United States. My position is based on the following reasons:

To be president of the nation, Obama must take the oath: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Consequently, there is a matter of honor at stake in this topic: will Obama honor his word?

According to its authors, the US Constitution was conceived to “promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.” Based on this goal, the founding fathers lucidly realized that it was essential to limit the power of rulers.

To do this, they established a strict separation of powers, under the premise that power restrains power. Moreover, they carefully established a delicate system of “checks and balances.”

The legislative powers were granted exclusively to Congress: the executive branch has to enforce laws as its main role; and the judiciary must ensure the maintenance of the legal order. That is, to prevent the abuse of power.

This means that it is not a power of the executive branch to decide whether a law should be kept or broken, but that his duty is to monitor compliance.

Those who defend the position taken by Obama on this issue argue that several presidents have previously taken a “blind eye” with respect to the strict compliance of certain laws.

This statement is an example of the “you too” fallacy. Let us remember that a fallacy is invalid but psychologically persuasive reasoning. What they mean is that since other presidents have done so, Obama’s position is justified.

The correct reasoning is precisely the opposite: we must find a way to prevent these things from happening in the future. And since we are on the subject, it would be good to start with Obama himself, making him realize what his institutional obligation is.

I have left what I consider the strongest argument to the end. Personally, I am in favor of the free immigration of every honest person. I think it is a mistake to limit it.

There are many serious studies showing that the one to benefit the most from the arrival of immigrants is the receiving country. Take the book Global Crossings by Álvaro Vargas Llosa as an example.

However, if we allow the power of a president to expand with respect to a given subject because we do not like the law, then we will be contributing to an authoritarian government.

We must not forget that excuses of the same inclination have strengthened many little tyrants who abound in Latin America. Thus began Chávez, Correa, Kirchner, etc, etc.

In sum, if we “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,” we must make the rule of law prevail over any other consideration.

Hana Fischer was born in and resides in Uruguay. She serves as a writer, researcher, and international affairs columnist in different media outlets. A specialist in philosophy, politics, and economics, she has written several books and received honorable mentions. Follow her at @hana_fischer.

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