If you like President Barack Obama's constitutionally dubious expansions of presidential power, you'll love President Hillary Clinton.
Obama has repeatedly insisted that the Constitution poses limits on his ability to set immigration policy, and then has repeatedly blown through those limits. In 2011, he was asked to grant "administrative relief" from deportation to immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as minors. He responded that it was "just not true" that he had the authority to do so, and that suggestions to the contrary were getting in the way of passing legislation that would provide real relief.
The next year, he went ahead and did exactly what he had said he couldn't do, in a move that one of his admirers said was "universally understood" as a way of stopping Republicans from advancing substantive immigration legislation.More coverageOpinion and analysis about the 2016 presidential campaignCartoonsCartoons: The race to the presidency in 2016 CartoonCartoon: Early for 2016?
Still, Obama assured everyone that that was it: He could go no further on his own because the U.S. was "a nation of laws." Then, in November, he went ahead with a broader executive amnesty anyway. The White House released a legal analysis insisting that this new policy gave unauthorized immigrants the strongest protections possible without new laws being passed. That analysis, though, rested on the fiction that the policy would be implemented through an individualized case-by-case review. And Obama's action is tied up in court.
Hillary Clinton now says that she's willing to go even further than Obama in refusing to enforce immigration laws -- even further, that is, than an administration that has already pushed the limits of presidential power as far as they possibly could.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest responded to the obvious question -- has the administration failed to do everything possible for unauthorized immigrants, or is Clinton wrong? -- by babbling in a highly professional manner.
Clinton is adopting this assertive stance, it seems fairly clear, because she thinks it will be politically advantageous and solidify Hispanic support for her presidential campaign. She is, for the same reason, denouncing Republican proposals to compromise on immigration reform. Some Republicans want to offer a path to legal status for unauthorized immigrants. Clinton insists on nothing less than a path to full citizenship for them. She also says that she wants to welcome back people who have already been deported.
Republican presidential candidates should respond by saying that they're open to legal status or citizenship -- but that these things have to be accomplished through Congress, and should occur only after it's clear that existing immigration laws will be credibly enforced at the border and in the workplace. If Obama's amnesty is eventually cleared by the courts, Republicans should say that they'll respect it for the three years that it protects those eligible from deportation, but that they expect to reach a legislative solution when that protected status comes up for renewal.
Many Hispanics will prefer Clinton's approach. But if Republicans advance their own ideas in a measured way, they can avoid looking like the immigrant-haters that Clinton wants to make them out to be. And she might even come across as someone who is willing to say or do anything for political convenience - - even if it means ignoring the presidential oath of office. Which appears to be true.
Ramesh Ponnuru, a Bloomberg View columnist, is a senior editor for National Review and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.