President Barack Obama speaks during the "ConnectED to the Future"...

President Barack Obama speaks during the "ConnectED to the Future" event in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Obama's expected push to single-handedly change immigration policy galvanized both ends of the immigration-reform debate ahead of his address to the nation on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. Credit: AP / Carolyn Kaster

President Barack Obama may be on the verge of signing an executive order granting de facto amnesty to as many as 5 million immigrants living in the United States illegally.

Democrats and immigration activists generally support the idea of an executive order, saying Republicans have repeatedly obstructed the president's reforms.

But some liberals have misgivings. Jonathan Turley, a prominent law professor at George Washington University, said this week Obama's order "tears at the very fabric of the Constitution" and announced he would help the GOP with any court challenge.

Should the president use his executive authority to change U.S. immigration rules without Congress? Or is this simply abuse of power? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, weigh in.

BEN BOYCHUK Every U.S. president pushes the limits of his constitutional powers. More than a few have exceeded those limits. But the size and scope of what President Obama would do with 5 million illegal immigrants by executive order is simply unprecedented in our history.

The president says he can exempt millions of foreigners from deportation on the grounds of "prosecutorial discretion." Nobody disputes the president has the authority to prioritize how he enforces the laws. And in fact, his predecessors have used such discretion from time to time, usually in response to a humanitarian crisis.

But those exceptions concerned thousands of people, not millions. If ever there were a case of a president failing to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed," this is it.

Obama asserted prosecutorial discretion in 2010 when he ordered U.S. immigration authorities to cease deporting minors. But Obama also said, "If we start broadening that, then essentially I'll be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally. So that's not an option." Or at least it wasn't until Republicans trounced the Democrats in the midterms this month.

The legislative branch isn't powerless in the face of an overreaching executive. Congress still holds the purse strings, and Republicans aren't afraid to cut off funding to make a point.

No, the problem is with the example Obama would set. Decisions of such breadth are tough to overturn, as this president knows well. Obama campaigned in 2008 to close down the prison at Guantanamo Bay within a year of taking the oath of office. He failed. Why? Put simply: the tangle of U.S. laws and President George W. Bush's executive orders made closing Gitmo challenging legally, difficult logistically, and impossible politically.

Some Republicans have come to regret ceding so much authority to President Bush. After all, just look at what his successor has done with it. But Democrats, too, may regret urging Obama to take this aggressive course on illegal immigration. Who knows what his successor will do?

JOEL MATHIS Don't worry, folks: The republic is safe. There's nothing that Barack Obama can do to it that hasn't already been done by Ronald Reagan or some other Republican - and nothing that can't be undone by the next president, if he or she chooses.

The truth? The word "amnesty" is kind of misleading in this situation. Let's call it what it really is - a "deferral" of deportations, a kicking the policy can down the road a little bit. The 5 million people who won't be deported as a result of President Obama's expected action are 5 million people who can (theoretically, at least) be deported later: The president doesn't have the power to endow them with citizenship - all he can do is refuse to deport them. For now. Even under a vigorous deportation regime, most of those folks probably would probably have stayed in the U.S. for two or more years anyway.

And it's not like the president is doing something new. The New Republic notes: "In 1987, the Reagan administration took executive action to limit deportations for 200,000 Nicaraguan exiles, even those who had been turned down for asylum. Similarly, President George H.W. Bush in 1990 limited deportations of Chinese students and in 1991 kept hundreds of Kuwait citizens from being deported. " Nobody was talking "impeachment" or "tyranny" or "shredded Constitution." But President Obama never gets the benefit of the doubt that his predecessors did. I'm not a big fan of untrammeled executive power, either, but I didn't like it back when President George W. Bush used his executive power to disregard laws against torture and warrantless wiretapping. Most folks' views on the matter tend to change with the administration.

Let me suggest that the president deciding he can listen to conversations without a warrant poses a much bigger threat to liberty and self-government than does letting an immigrant stay in the United States a little longer than expected.

So the main reason Republicans are outraged at President Obama? Because that's what they do - be outraged at President Obama. That's the only principle at work here. In fact, that's almost always the only real principle at work for the GOP these days. How very, very tedious.

Ben Boychuk ( is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. Joel Mathis ( is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine.

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