With President Barack Obama poised to unveil executive orders Thursday night that are likely to ease the naturalization of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, the White House on Wednesday cited past examples of presidents who have also used executive orders to deal what Press Secretary Josh Earnest called "the undocumented population."
But the White House’s comparisons to the executive actions on this issue taken by past presidents do not hold water, according to Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
Where Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush used executive orders to carry out congressional intent, von Spakovsky told Newsmax, President Obama’s likely use of the same power to advance immunity for illegals means he is "going against the will of Congress, which considered and rejected the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act on several occasions, including when both houses of Congress were controlled by the president’s party."
At the briefing for reporters at the White House Wednesday, Newsmax asked Earnest if the president "has brought into the discussion [independent] Sen. Angus King of Maine, who is neither Republican nor Democrat."
King shares Obama’s view on immigration reform, but is very skeptical about taking executive action to achieve it.
On several occasions, Newsmax noted, the Maine senator has referred to the civil rights program and said that if John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson had taken "unilateral executive action, it might have ultimately delayed passage."
"Well, I know that there have been a number of discussions between White House officials and Sen. King," the President’s top spokesman told us. "He is somebody who has focused on this issue quite a bit."
Describing King’s citing of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson as "interesting," Earnest went on to say that both "actually took executive action to grant parole to Cuban refugees here in this country. So again, an example of two Presidents who took executive action -- used their executive action to address problems that they perceived in the immigration system."
Earnest again referred to the Cuban refugees as examples of cases in which past presidents used executive action to deal with large numbers of immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
"If you combine the efforts of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon to grant parole to Cuban refugees, more than 600,000 Cuban refugees were affected by that action," he said.
Other examples cited by Earnest were those of "President Reagan, [who] provided relief to children whose parents were applying for legal status under the 1986 amnesty law, even though they themselves had been excluded from the statue," and President George H.W. Bush, who "expanded the family fairness program to cover more than 1.5 million unauthorized spouses and children. This represented about 40 percent of the undocumented population at the time."
In both an interview with Newsmax and a detailed article in the "Daily Signal," Heritage’s von Spakovsky also referred to Bush-41 relaxing "technical requirements under a 'Family Fairness' policy to defer deportation of the spouses and children of illegal immigrants who were allowed to stay in this country and seek naturalization through the IRCA [Immigration and Reform Control Act] amnesty [passed in 1986]."
But, he added, "Bush soon worked with Congress to pass the Immigration Act of 1990, which made these protections permanent."
Von Spakovsky also noted that the Bush policy and the 1990 Act "affected only a small number of immigrants — about 180,000 people — in comparison to Obama’s … anticipated unilateral actions that will affect millions of immigrants."
As for Earnest’s reference to Reagan providing relief to children not covered under the 1986 amnesty, von Spakovsky recalled that in 1987, then-Attorney General Ed Meese "issued a memorandum allowing the INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] to defer deportation where 'compelling or humanitarian factors existed' for children of illegal immigrants who had been granted amnesty and, in essence, given green cards and put on a path towards being 'naturalized' as citizens.
"In announcing this policy, Reagan was not defying Congress, but rather carrying out the general intent of Congress, which had just passed a blanket amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants."
As for Earnest pointing to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson granting immunity to Cuban refugees, von Spakovsky said this was part of a tradition of treating political refugees "based on very special circumstances, such as the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the Communist-driven civil war in Nicaragua, or the Chinese massacre of students in Tiananmen Square that led Bush to granted deferred departure to threatened Chinese nationals."
In contrast to Presidents Reagan and Bush-41 using their executive authority on immigration issues in cooperation with Congress, says von Spakovsky, President Obama is "bypassing Congress entirely.
"He is unconstitutionally revising existing law and, without congressional approval, imposing new ones that have been explicitly rejected by Congress time and time again, thereby setting himself up as a kingmaker (or king) on immigration policy."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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