Victor Davis Hanson
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President Obama recently issued an edict exempting an estimated 800,000 to 1 million illegal aliens from the consequences of federal immigration law. Ostensibly that blanket amnesty applies to those who arrived before the age of 16 and are younger than 30; who are in, or graduated from, high school or have served in the military; and who have not been convicted of a felony or multiple misdemeanors. And while most Americans sympathize with helping those who were brought into the United States as toddlers, raised as de facto Americans and followed the rules, the policy of exempting hundreds of thousands en masse in the long run may create far more problems than it solves.

First was the cynical timing. In 2009 and 2010, Democrats had a supermajority in the Senate and a majority in the House and could easily have enacted such a law over all opposition. So why was the edict handed down in a tough campaign year?

Then there is a problem of constitutionality, an especially serious issue for former constitutional law lecturer Barack Obama, who ran on the premise that he would restore respect for the separation of powers. But as seen in the reversal of the order of the Chrysler creditors, the attempt to shut down a non-union Boeing plant in South Carolina, the decision not to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, and the recent use of executive privilege not to hand over Fast and Furious documents, this administration sometimes just bypasses a now-difficult Congress to rule by fiat.

The move contradicts Obama's earlier claim that a de facto amnesty "would not conform with my appropriate role as president." He later reiterated that "some people want me to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own," but "that's not how our system works."

In theory, the federal government currently treats illegal aliens on a case-by-case basis, as it allots limited resources to determine who most urgently should be deported and who need not be. The president has added some vague qualifiers to his blanket proclamation concerning schooling and criminal activity. But given that in a state like California, Hispanic males are dropping out of high school at a rate of nearly 40 percent, will the new policy result in summary deportations? That is, once we have chosen those who will not be deported, do we then go after thousands who dropped out, went on state assistance or have been convicted of crimes? And how do we authenticate age and length of residency?

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Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.