Why Can Obama Bend the Law for Young Immigrants, But Not for Drug Users?


Later today President Obama will give a speech announcing that immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and have lived continuously in the country for the last five years will, under certain circumstances, be allowed to seek deportation deferrals and work permits

Under the new policy, people younger than 30 who came to the United States before the age of 16, pose no criminal or security threat, and were successful students or served in the military can get a two-year deferral from deportation, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.

Read the Napolitano memo (PDF)

It also will allow those meeting the requirements to apply for work permits, Napolitano said, adding that participants must be in the United States now and be able to prove they have been living in the country continuously for at least five years.

The change is part of a department effort to target resources at illegal immigrants who pose a greater threat, such as criminals and those trying to enter the country now, Napolitano said.

It "is not immunity, it is not amnesty," she told reporters, adding the shift is "well within the framework of existing laws" and "is simply the right thing to do."

Last month, I wrote that 

The Obama administration's favorite excuse for cracking down on the medical marijuana industry is that it has no choice but to keep cracking down. "I can't nullify congressional law," Obama told Rolling Stone. "Federal law is federal law," Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske told the Center for American Progress' Neera Tanden.

And yet, as Chris Weigant recently pointed out, Obama has plenty of discretion when it comes to enforcing federal law. The Department of Justice isn't defending the Defense of Marriage Act, didn't prosecute the New Black Panthers in Philadelphia, and is not going after former Bush administration officials for torture.

But an even better example is Obama's use of executive discretion on immigration policy. In June 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton issued a memorandum titled, "Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion Consistent with the Civil Immigration Enforcement Priorities of the Agency for the Apprehension, Detention, and Removal of Aliens."

Here's anti-immigration lawmaker Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) describing that ICE memo at National Review Online: "The memos tell agency officials when to exercise 'prosecutorial discretion,' such as when to defer the removal of immigrants; when not to stop, question, arrest, or detain an immigrant; and when to dismiss a removal proceeding. The directives also tell officials not to seek to remove illegal immigrants who have been present illegally for many years."

Today's immigration announcement makes a compelling case that Obama is capable of using his executive powers to *not* enforce the law, and will do so when it's politically advantageous. There's a lesson there for drug reformers. 

NEXT: Definitive Proof That Eric Holder Lied to Congress About Obama's Medical Marijuana Crackdown

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Because he doesn't need the coveted drug users vote.

    1. Felons can't vote.

      1. So Obama needs to make membership in Team Red a felony.

        1) Team Red
        2) Felony
        3) ?????
        4) PROFIT!

    2. Obama is a vote hustler who cares about the Hispanic vote. Obama does not care about doing what is morally right.

      1. Obama does not care about doing what is morally right.

        I'm sure that what is "morally right" in Obamas opinion is Obama being re-elected.

  2. I don't understand why Obama keeps making up shit about why he is cracking down on Medicinal Marijuana... The simple, true answer (which I would be less angry about if he just came out and said it) is "Because Fuck You, That's Why...". There is NO other explanation.

    1. He makes up shit about everything.


    2. The simple truth is that Obama is a vote hustler who wants the domesticated breeders vote.

      1. What the hell are "domesticated breeders"?

        1. Come to my neighborhood and I'll show you what I think TELLMOFF means. 22-year-old single mother with six kids entirely on the dole. Just whom do you think she, and ultimately her offspring, will be voting for?

          1. FTR, I support open boarders on a global scale. If people were free to move about the planet, they would leave the oppressive areas.

          2. I have no idea. My guess is that she'll won't have the inclination to even vote.

          3. The other problem is that TELLMOFF threw this into a big thread about immigration and a sub-thread about marijuana. So the comment either doesn't make sense at all, or it calls immigrants "domesticated breeders", which, fuck that.

            1. The "big thread" is that Obama is a hypocrit about how he must follow the law. The truth is that he selectively enforces the laws that gain him the most votes.

              The domesticated live in harmony with a system that provides an orderly society. They are protected from all of the threats that this hiearchy constantly warns them about.

  3. It's about votes gained versus votes lost. The essence of moral governance.

  4. There was a time when sensibly practicing discretion was taken as inherent in the word "discretion". Now it requires a press conference and a bunch of media grandstanding and cheerleading. This is the equivalent of "You're supposed to take care of your kids!" Well done, Obama, you're focusing limited resources on violent people instead of veterans.

  5. Today's immigration announcement makes a compelling case that Obama is capable of using his executive powers to *not* enforce the law, and will do so when it's politically advantageous. There's a lesson there for drug reformers.

    The difference is, there's more than one officially acceptable position on immigration these days. Somehow, the WoD is still untouchable.

    1. The WoD is not untouchable with libertatians. The WoD is untouchable with churches, civil rights groups, and both political parties.

  6. They're so busy casting about for ways to buy votes and so obvious in doing it. The smell of blood in the air grows stronger and stronger with each desperate move.

    1. I think Rubio scares the shit out of them. My father is a tow-the-lion republican with a soft spot for immigration. He was texting me from a Rubio event in the St. Pete or Tampa area last night and over the moon about Rubio.

      Dems must be very afraid that Republicans will adopt a Marco/Jeb immigration platform and undermine the last reason for Hispanics to vote Democrat automatically.

      1. Good thing such bullshit dominates our politics as the economy grows ever weaker.

        1. I'm personally a little pissed that US Sugar still owns the Senators from FL, myself.

          1. If it weren't for sugar tariffs, I'd have Sugar Coke, like God intended for me to have.

            1. Why haven't ADM/Monsanto destroyed the sugar industry once and for all? Do they hate Florida so much that they've left the sugar companies just large enough to fuck the citizenry of FL over?

      2. ....and undermine the last reason for Hispanics to vote Democrat automatically.

        Just let them know that the primary reason they are here is to be taxed to pay for 60's style social programs for an aging white population (Barney Franks breast implant surgery springs to mind) and the last reason for Mexicans to Vote TEAM BLUE is in the hopper!

  7. I'd love to help ya, son, but you're too stoned to vote...

    1. While I grew up hearing the Cochran original on the Oldies stations, I still always hear the Live at Leeds version in my head. It could be due to Nick's urination post this time around.

      1. Ditto on the Live at Leeds version. I think it's the best.

      2. No love for the Blue Cheer version?

  8. Crazy question - Doesn't this require an act of Congress?

    1. Prosecutorial Discretion. The Justice Department is outlining the sorts of lawbreakers that it's not going to spend its time and resources on.

      1. It goes beyond that - under what law can they be granted work permits?

        1. Under the "Fuck you, vote for me" law.

          1. Fuck You, That's Why, and STOP RESISTING.

      2. Prosecutorial Discression is a nice way of saying selective enforcement of the laws. The laws do not apply to favored people. Equal treatment under the law is a meaningless platitude.

        1. That also very likely creates an Equal Protection argument for those who don't get the favor of such discretion.

        2. Waivers

        3. Prosecutorial Discression is a nice way of saying selective enforcement of the laws.

          Only to the Ignorati.

          1. Whoever told you that wasn't asked for an explanation.

    2. Obama answered my question:
      "There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply, through executive order, ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as President."


  9. Obama actually has the legal authority to reschedule marijuana and lacks entirely the legal authority to implement parts of the DREAM act administratively.

    This policy is actually grounds for impeachment, not that any national politician has the balls to point that out.

    1. Most everything he's done is impeachable. But nobody's willing to do anything.

    2. When was the last president who didn't do something impeachable?

  10. There oughtta be a law...

  11. You know who else selectively enforced laws...

    1. Roscoe P. Coltrane?

  12. Sooo...

    Obama help teh gays, gave amnesty and will probably do something with pot in the next 6 months...

    In 10 years will we call him the libertarian president?

    1. phht totally forgot what i was going to write.

      Is abusing the power of presidency for something good like amnesty rather then bad things like drone attacks, declaring war without congress, and indefinite imprisonment without due process and improvement?

      1. I believe this is where RC's "me today, you tomorrow" applies. Abusing the law isn't a positive thing, even if we like the outcome. And what happens to these kids if the executive order is revoked in the future?

        1. That's the issue. It's all discretionary.

      2. Expanding Presidential power past its Constitutional limits is never good. Cheering because you agree with the policy (if it had been passed by Congress) is foolish.

        I bet you won't like the next Unconstitutional Executive Order.

  13. Obama Jobs Program: Help Illegals Compete with Americans for Scarce Jobs

    1. Robotics is the answer to jobs Americans won't do.

      1. Not if we restrict robot immigration.

        1. USA! USA!

      2. They've already overtaken the assassination trade.

  14. Anyone still harboring illusions that the president does ANYTHING that's not politically motivated might be interested to know that the announcement came just as the USCIS liaison was about to present at the American Immigration Lawyers Association national conference this morning. Seriously...the first news article I have seen on the announcement came at 10:00 am and the USCIS open forum started at 9:40 am in Nashville.

    1. Wow! The CMA music festival is going on in Nashville as well.

      1. The National Sheriff's Association Conference was going on as well. Made for a few uncomfortable conversations in the elevator between immigration attorneys and sheriff's deputies.

        1. I assume the "uncomfortable conversations" were in the style of Halo multi-player teabaggings?

  15. I think I hurt their feelings by keeping my hand on the pepper spray anytime they were within 10 feet of me.

    1. The sheriffs, or the immigration lawyers?

      Or both?

      1. I've yet to see puppycide perpetrated by someone processing an H-1B petition.

    2. Bah...that was supposed to nest above.

  16. So how's this supposed to work when the kids get amnesty and their parents don't?

    1. According to what I've heard today, the change in status for the kids will have no effect on parents status. The kids can't apply for DREAM-based deferral until they are old enough to go to college or join the military anyway...which means there won't be situations in which a parent is "necessary" (i.e. the kids is not old enough to enter into a contract or act on his or her own behalf). In practice, I expect to see some parents using their child's new status as a basis to request prosecutorial discretion in their own removal cases.

      1. The kids can't apply for DREAM-based deferral until they are old enough to go to college or join the military anyway

        Ah, so we will continue deporting actual children, then. As far as anyone knows.

        That's the trick with prosecutorial discretion, though. Its unreviewable.

        Will anyone here be surprised when this discretion is exercised to keep illegal children from being deported? And, since it makes no sense to give amnesty to children when their parents are being booted out, to their parents, too?

  17. It is simple. Mexicans will occasionally vote for the other team or at least stay home and pot smokers don't. Most pot smokers I know are mindless lefteis who will tell you with a straight face that Obama is only doing this stuff because the evil Republicans are forcing him like they have hold the Obama brats for ransom or something.

    That is really all there is to it. Obama would legalize crack and surrender to the Muslims if he thought that was what it took to get him re-elected.

    1. Krugman's biggest fallacy with the alien war scenario to revive the economy is not the Keynesian component (though that is a big one), it is in the assumption that no president would make a side deal with them before the invasion commences.

      1. Just let me keep my secret service detail and the private schools for the brats.

    2. ^^^ this ^^^

      I have ongoing battles with the fools over at rollitup.org, and you just summarized their slobbering fanboy attitudes quite well.

  18. I have to wonder how many votes this will actually net him.

    Making the (charitable? naive?) assumption that these amnestied people won't be voting this November (because that would be illegal), is he really going to pick up more new Latino voters, than he is going to lose union/blue collar/WTF, dude? Work permits for hundreds of thousands of foreigners in this economy? voters.

    1. I think they figure the unions got no where else to go

    2. If it nets one vote it's a win!

  19. This thread is A+ comedy.

    Obama does something unambiguously good with his executive power, by refusing to implement immoral laws, and all you guys can do is complain!

    When Ron Paul says he'd get rid of the department of education if he's elected, or end the drug war, do you guys assume that involves action through congress? He's gonna throw a big monkey wrench into the federal bureaucracy, right?

    Well, Obama just threw a little one. If you're not shameless partisans, give him some respect for doing what you advocate.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.