12/02/2014 09:57 am ET Updated Feb 01, 2015

Republican Outrage Over Immigration Executive Order Is Misplaced


Conservatives are really angry about the executive action taken by President Barack Obama last week regarding immigration. The only problem is they are having a lot of trouble deciding exactly what they are angry about.

Some people are suggesting that by taking such action, Obama is acting like a king or a dictator, despite the fact that Obama has actually used executive orders at lower rates than most of his predecessors.

Faced with this reality, some Republicans claim that it's not how often Obama uses this power but that his actions are unconstitutional or an unprecedented overreach of his power.

The reality is that every president over the last six decades have shielded groups here illegally from deportation. This order may protect more people than usual, but according to legal scholars it is not illegal, unconstitutional, or unprecedented.

While some would like to pretend that Obama is the first to create a controversial executive order it should be noted that George W. Bush signed an executive order allowing the National Security Agency to perform warrantless wiretaps, which was later determined to be unconstitutional.

Were it not for an executive order signed by Ronald Reagan, the NSA wouldn't even exist. George W. Bush also had parts of an executive order on terrorism struck down as unconstitutional.

Some of those who are aware of how really unspectacular Obama's recent executive order actually is have attempted to portray the action as something it is not.

Conservative politicians and pundits alike have decided to term this order "Executive Amnesty" in spite of the fact that it isn't amnesty. It doesn't give anyone legal status. It doesn't provide a pathway to citizenship. It doesn't give those here illegally the right to vote. It doesn't give them access to the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. And it doesn't give them Social Security benefits. It just gives people the opportunity to apply to work here legally without the threat of deportation.

Another group claims the president himself said he could not act on his own and this proves his order is illegal. The irony of this statement is astonishing. Apparently, when Obama says something they agree with, he has the power to unilaterally create law, but when they disagree with his actions he suddenly loses this power. Luckily, the decision on whether something is constitutional or not isn't for the president to decide. Obama's previous statements have absolutely no bearing on the actual legality of his order.

Imagine if we lived in a world where presidential statements automatically set legal precedent.

George H.W. Bush famously stated "read my lips: no new taxes," only to turn around later and raise taxes.

In his inaugural address, Ronald Regan remarked "it is time to check and reverse the growth of government," yet he not only expanded spending to unprecedented levels, he added over a 300,000 employees to the government payroll.

On the campaign trail, George W. Bush declared "I'm not so sure the role of the United States is to go around the world and say, 'This is the way it's got to be." But after a few years in Iraq he changed course when he said "There are five steps in our plan to help Iraq achieve democracy and freedom."

All of these statements would have made the president's actions that followed illegal.

Obama claims that when talking about what he can and cannot do with regards to immigration reform, he was talking about enacting laws similar to that of the Senate immigration reform bill. The executive order he issued falls well short of the sweeping changes the Senate bill would have enacted. According to Obama, this executive order only includes language that is within the president's purview.

But that didn't stop House Speaker John Boehner from asserting that Obama's actions "deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms." Boehner says this despite the fact that the Senate already passed bipartisan immigration reform which the House had the votes to pass with bipartisan backing and over 80% the public supports. The reality is that Boehner is not only the one deliberately sabotaging a bipartisan reform, but his refusal to bring this bill up for a vote in the House left Obama with little choice but to use his executive power.

Republicans who are searching for some rational reason to be outraged by this executive order should be more concerned about the failure of Republican leadership to address this issue. Not only did Boehner miss out on an opportunity to mend fences with a growing Hispanic voting bloc, he has now backed himself into a corner with no clear way out.

Unfortunately, rather than admit he overplayed his hand, Boehner threatens to tear families apart as he continues to place party needs over the will of the people. It seems Boehner is just as happy to "undermine the rule of law in our country" as he believes the president is.

Previously published in the Detroit News.