Sunday, June 17, 2012

Semi-amnesty, rule of law, and separation of powers

 Bryan Caplan and Arnold Kling have been having a very interesting discussion over at EconLog  about President Obama's recent announcement that he will stop deporting certain categories of immigrants. Like both Caplan and Kling, I support legislation that would more directly liberalize our immigration laws. As several commenters on the thread point out, the problem with the current approach is that it is quite easily reversed by the next President. I should point out also that I don't agree with Kling's separation of powers comment about the announcement, which I find to be precisely backwards. It's the job of the Executive Branch to enforce the law. As the head of it, the President is in a perfectly legal position to make decisions about enforcement priorities for the federal prosecutors serving as the executive branch's foot soldiers. Conversely, it's Congress's job to enact new legislation in this area. The President can certainly develop a plan and present it to Congress, but the job of passing it then falls to Congress.

I do want to highlight two very good sentences near the end of the post: " I would suggest having a broader discussion of how to address the problem of laws that many people neither want to repeal nor rigorously enforce. Having the executive nullify such laws one at a time may or may not be a good approach." I would second that, too. Like many libertarians, I have a deep-seated reverence for the rule of law; at the same time, I recognize that many laws currently on the books are unjust abridgments of freedom. Figuring out how to reconcile these impulses -- in either the immigration context or any other -- is not especially easy. More thoughtful discussion of these issues would certainly help me reconcile these questions.

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