Column: Obama’s immigration goal: enrage Republicans

President Obama speaks about immigration at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nev.
(Carolyn Kaster / AP)
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Maybe President Obama is just trolling?

For those who don’t know, in Internet parlance, trolling is an effort to elicit outrage from a specific group or the public generally. As the always useful — but not always G-rated, or spell checked — Urban Dictionary explains, “Trolling requires decieving; any trolling that doesn’t involve decieving someone isn’t trolling at all; it’s just stupid. As such, your victim must not know that you are trolling; if he does, you are an unsuccesful troll.”

I don’t like the president’s executive action on immigration. I think it’s constitutionally dubious — for exactly the reasons Obama has insisted more than 20 times in the past. “I’m not a king. My job as the head of the executive branch ultimately is to carry out the law,” Obama told Telemundo in 2013. “When it comes to enforcement of our immigration laws, we’ve got some discretion. We can prioritize what we do. But we can’t simply ignore the law.”

If all King Obama was doing was opting not to deport some immigrants here illegally, he’d be on safer ground. But his new proposal would allow an estimated 3.5 million “undocumented Americans” to get all sorts of documents — Social Security numbers, work permits, drivers licenses, etc. That’s not prosecutorial discretion, that’s a rewrite of existing law.


Still, the fine print of what Obama is doing is far less dramatic than many of its defenders and critics claim. Some are comparing it to the Emancipation Proclamation, which is ridiculous. People who voluntarily come to America illegally are in no way comparable to poor souls kidnapped abroad and forced into eternal bondage. Moreover, the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t have a two-year time limit or require slaves to fill out paperwork and pay back taxes.

Others claim it’s no big deal and perfectly consistent with executive orders taken by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. This goes too far the other way. Reagan and Bush were mostly cleaning up problems with laws passed by Congress. In the other instances, they were responding to specific foreign crises.

Meanwhile, the only “crisis” Obama is responding to is Congress’ “failure to act.” This is a dangerous standard. We all know there is an entitlement crisis is America. Should the next Republican president, for example, unilaterally privatize Social Security because Congress refuses to fix it?

Even some on the right believe this is the equivalent of the Emancipation Proclamation — in its sweep, if not its moral stature. But roughly half of immigrants here illegally will remain unaffected by the measure. And, there’s very good reason to believe many of those eligible will not take up the offer. Indeed, the distinctions Obama draws between, say, long-term residents and short-term ones shouldn’t matter all that much if you favor family reunification, “getting out of the shadows” or “getting right with the law.”

A more plausible criticism is that Obama is trying to lay down precedents and create facts on the ground that will make it impossible to reverse his ratchet toward amnesty.

I’m sure that’s part of his thinking. Indeed, he says that’s his ultimate goal. He’s said several times that all Congress has to do is pass a bill that does what he wants and he’ll stop doing what he wants without Congress.


Which points to why I think he’s trolling. As Robert Litan of the Brookings Institution notes, Obama “could’ve done all this quietly, without making any announcement whatsoever.” After all, Obama has unilaterally reinterpreted and rewritten the law without nationally televised addresses before. But doing that wouldn’t let him pander to Latinos and, more important, that wouldn’t achieve his real goal: enraging Republicans.

As policy, King Obama’s edict is a mess, which may explain why Latinos are underwhelmed by it, according to the polls. But that’s not the yardstick Obama cares about most. The real goal is twofold: Cement Latinos into the Democratic coalition and force Republicans to overreact. He can’t achieve the first if he doesn’t succeed with the second. It remains to be seen if the Republicans will let themselves be trolled into helping him.

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