Is President Obama’s Immigration Executive Constitutional?

The issue of immigration reform in the United States has ignited a series of political debates over the last few years and has increased the partisan divide between both political parties. In the debate over illegal immigration, some argue that the proper solution is to enhance border security and to provide a program that establishes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. On the other hand, others argue that illegal immigration negatively impacts taxpayers, tarnish the public perception of immigrants, and jeopardizes the safety of law enforcement officials and citizens along the US-Mexican border. Additionally, opponents of comprehensive immigration reform argue that in effect, any reform would “reward lawbreakers” at the expense of immigrants who come to the United States through legal means. The issue of immigration reform has also resulted in several different proposals at the Congressional level by members of both political parties.

To address a number of issues surrounding illegal immigration, President Obama issued a series of executive orders in November 2014 meant to protect some 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow for a percentage of undocumented immigrants to apply for citizenship under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The response to President Obama’s executive actions has been mixed, with Democrats almost universally in favor and Republicans nearly unanimous in their opposition. In addition, the sweeping nature of the executive orders has led some to argue that President Obama’s actions are unconstitutional and represent an instance of executive overreach. In response to the allegations of the order’s unconstitutionality, several states have signed on to a federal lawsuit challenging the Obama Administration. Overall, it can be argued that President Obama’s actions are unconstitutional and represent an abuse of executive power.

The main point of contention against the Obama Administration’s executive actions on immigration is that they go against the principle of separation of power and usurp legislative authority regarding the implementation of immigration laws. The historical precedence regarding immigration law is that Congress has the authority to regulate immigration and legislate any laws surrounding it. Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution goes on to entrust the legislative branch to “establish a uniform role of naturalization.” Such language confirms the fact that Congress is to have the primary power in establishing laws that determine how noncitizens are to become citizens of the United States. The idea of Congress having the power to regulate immigration has been upheld by the Supreme Court cases in many cases such as Henderson v. Mayor of New York and Arizona v. United States.

Additionally, President Obama using an executive order to influence existing law may set a precedent for future Presidents to use executive authority to address matters explicitly reserved for other branches of government.
Additionally, opponents of President Obama’s immigration executive order argue that his decision to not enforce existing immigration law is a violation of his Constitutional powers. Article 2, Section 3 of the Constitution requires the President to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Such guidelines mean that the President cannot nullify or not enforce laws that they do not agree with. An example of a law passed by Congress that President Obama has chosen not to support through his executive order is the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRAIRA). The purpose of the Act was to improve border security by increasing the powers and responsibilities of agencies charged with monitoring visa applications. Additionally, the law gave federal agents increased latitude with deporting undocumented immigrants. Considering such factors, it can be argued that President Obama is acting outside of his Constitutionally defined powers by issuing the executive orders regarding immigration.

In conclusion, the debate over immigration reform has emerged as an important political topic over the past few years and has served to highlight the partisan divisions between both the Republican and Democratic parties. Numerous solutions were proposed to address the issue, but the stark divisions between both sides have thus far prevented any substantial reform from emerging. The executive orders issued by President Obama has added to the debate over illegal immigration and has raised numerous questions about the powers of the executive branch. It can be argued that President Obama’s executive order are in violation of the principles of separation of power and are in violation of the President Constitutional powers, in particular, their obligation to uphold and execute all laws. Only time will tell if the issue of immigration reform will become settled law and whether or not President Obama’s executive actions will be deemed Constitutional or not. 

the author

Matt is a student at Seton Hall Law School and graduated from Monmouth University. Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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  1. Marco Palladino on January 9, 2018

    This picture was stolen by Matt from Marco. Marco is awesome. Matt is awesome. Period.

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