Here’s Chuck Grassley’s Real Problem With the Use of Executive Authority on Immigration

Barack Obama’s not George W. Bush.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) speaks to members of the press at the Senate Daily Press Gallery June 27, 2013 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Lucia Graves
May 7, 2014, 9:09 a.m.

Yes­ter­day, when the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion un­veiled a num­ber of pro­pos­als that would re­lax re­stric­tions on for­eign work­ers and their spouses, Chuck Grass­ley was all verklempt.

“The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion claims it wants im­mig­ra­tion re­form, but they can’t wait for Con­gress. They act on their own,” Grass­ley, a top Re­pub­lic­an on the Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, said on the Sen­ate floor, ac­cord­ing to his pre­pared re­marks. “What’s next? Will the pres­id­ent uni­lat­er­ally leg­al­ize the un­doc­u­mented pop­u­la­tion be­cause he can’t have his way with Con­gress?”

Grass­ley’s feel­ing that the pres­id­ent is over­step­ping his powers in re­vamp­ing im­mig­ra­tion policy via ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion is something of a change of heart. Back in June of 2008, when Pres­id­ent George W. Bush used an ex­ec­ut­ive or­der to re­quire fed­er­al con­tract­ors to par­ti­cip­ate in the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment’s E-Veri­fy sys­tem, Grass­ley was all for it.

Ap­pear­ing on CNN’s Lou Dobbs To­night sev­er­al days after the an­nounce­ment in 2008, Grass­ley voiced his sup­port for Bush’s ac­tion, say­ing, “It’s so im­port­ant that the pres­id­ent do that,” since Grass­ley would have put something sim­il­ar in le­gis­la­tion of his own if the pres­id­ent hadn’t. “It’s quite a vic­tory to get it done by ex­ec­ut­ive,” Grass­ley said at the time.

Grass­ley de­serves points for ideo­lo­gic­al con­sist­ency on im­mig­ra­tion, and his of­fice ar­gues that the situ­ation was dif­fer­ent — that there was clear au­thor­ity in the law for every em­ploy­er to use E-Veri­fy, in­clud­ing the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. “Pres­id­ent Obama’s ex­ec­ut­ive or­ders, on pro­sec­utori­al dis­cre­tion for H-1Bs for ex­ample, fall, in Sen­at­or Grass­ley’s opin­ion, out­side the con­stric­tions of ex­ist­ing law,” his spokes­wo­man, Beth Lev­ine, wrote in an email. “Sen­at­or Grass­ley wishes the pres­id­ent would use his ex­ec­ut­ive au­thor­ity to be­ne­fit Amer­ic­an work­ers, in­stead of work­ing to their det­ri­ment.” Bush, the lo­gic goes, was merely re­quir­ing what the law already au­thor­ized.

The up­shot though, was that Bush took a law Con­gress es­tab­lished as a vol­un­tary sys­tem in 1996 and greatly ex­pan­ded the pro­gram’s reach, af­fect­ing at least sev­er­al hun­dred thou­sand work­ers a year na­tion­wide, ac­cord­ing to The New York Times‘ es­tim­ates. The real dif­fer­ence then, was that Obama’s pro­pos­al uses ex­ec­ut­ive au­thor­ity to make life a little easi­er for for­eign work­ers, and Bush was us­ing it to do something Grass­ley agrees with. It would be­hoove Grass­ley to just say so.

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