“When I take executive action, I want to make sure it’s sustainable.”[1]

That’s how President Obama explained his decision to delay granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants until after the midterm elections. The move is clearly designed to avoid a popular backlash against Democratic candidates in the upcoming midterm elections.

Sleeping on Bill of rights

Man Sleeping on Constitution Float Following Occupy The Rose Parade 2012

It’s easy to see why the president is leery of voters having their say — 10 percent of Americans ranked immigration as the most important factor in determining how they’ll vote this November, according to a recent New York Times poll.[2] That’s higher than the percentage concerned about international conflicts or the budget deficit.[3]

Voters from both sides of the political spectrum are right to worry about the impact of granting amnesty to millions of folks who came here illegally — depressed wages, overwhelmed infrastructure, and unsustainable consumption of natural resources. But Americans should also worry about the dangerous precedent that unilateral executive action would set.

President Obama has promised to use an “executive order” to address America’s immigration crisis. Such an order is essentially a set of instructions from the president about how a particular federal agency should interpret or enforce a law.

Courts have generally upheld a president’s right to issue these directives. Most of the time, these orders are simply clarifications or explanations about how agencies should interpret a law already passed by Congress.[4]

That’s exactly why the prospect of using an executive order to change our nation’s immigration policy is so alarming. President Obama’s planned actions don’t clarify the law — they direct federal agencies to stop enforcing it altogether.[5] Amnesty supporters predict that the orders will effectively exempt up to 5 million illegal immigrants from prosecution.[6]

Citizens deserve to have their voices heard on a policy change this momentous, since it will impact the economy and society at every level. But if the president attempts to bypass Congress, the American people will be denied the right to express their wishes.  Worse, it will set a precedent of rule by decree as opposed to rule of law.

President Obama has made no secret that he would love to bypass the partisan bickering and gridlock that beset Congress — especially the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. But his allies in Congress should be careful of supporting unilateral executive action.

Brown Berets

Brown Berets Marching in Downtown Los Angeles, May 2012

After all, how will Democrats feel if a future Republican president uses an executive order to direct federal agencies to roll back enforcement of voting rights laws, or protections for workers’ rights to organize — and cites President Obama as a precedent?

Americans understand the consequences of unchecked immigration. That’s why 41 percent of Americans say they want decreased levels of immigration, compared to just 22 percent who want increases in immigration.[7]

Voters deserve to have their voices heard in November. But if the president takes unilateral executive action, their voices will have been silenced.

1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obama-delays-executive-immigration-action-until-after-midterm-elections-in-november/2014/09/06/e3ecf346-35cf-11e4-9e92-0899b306bbea_story.html

[2] http://www.pollingreport.com/prioriti.htm

[3] http://www.pollingreport.com/prioriti.htm

[4] http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/fixgov/posts/2014/01/30-state-of-the-union-obama-executive-orders-hudak and http://mentalfloss.com/article/20519/executive-orders-famous-infamous-ridiculous

[5] http://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/newsroom/release/136-leading-experts-immigration-law-agree-president-has-legal-authority-expand-reli

[6] http://www.vox.com/cards/obama-immigration-executive-action-amnesty-congress/obama-executive-immigration-reform-million-immigrants-how-many

[7] http://www.gallup.com/poll/1660/immigration.aspx