President Obama's recent order deferring the deportation of up to 5 million undocumented immigrants has led to enormous controversy. Many, especially on the political right, argue that it undermines the rule of law. The president, they contend, is required to enforce federal law as written, not pick and choose which violators to go after and which to exempt based on policy considerations.
In reality, writes George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin, Obama's actions were well within the scope of executive authority under the Constitution. In a world where authorities can prosecute only a small fraction of lawbreakers, all presidents inevitably make policy choices about which violations of federal law to prosecute and which to ignore. Such choices are inevitably affected by policy preferences. Obama's decision to defer deportation is in line with those of past presidents. And if any lawbreakers deserve to benefit from prosecutorial discretion, immigrants fleeing Third World poverty and oppression have a particularly strong case. Moreover, at least under the original meaning of the Constitution, the constitutionality of the immigration laws that Obama has chosen not to enforce in some cases, is itself suspect.