A job for Congress, not court

The Supreme Court in Washington is taking up an important dispute over immigration that could affect millions of people who are living in the country illegally. The Obama administration is asking the justices to allow it to put in place two programs that could shield roughly 4 million people from deportation and make them eligible to hold a job in the U.S. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

On Oct. 25, 2010, President Barack Obama gave this explanation on Univision of why he couldn’t unilaterally reform federal immigration policy:

“I am president, I am not king. I can’t do these things just by myself. We have a system of government that requires the Congress to work with the executive branch to make it happen.”

President Obama reiterated that constitutional point throughout his first term and nearly two years into his second. His reminders of the limits on his office’s authority on immigration included this one on March 28, 2011, again on Univision:

“With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed.”

But on Nov. 20, 2014, President Obama did try to bypass Congress with an executive order to suspend deportations for more than four million illegal immigrants.

That would have been a questionable move by any president. It was a particularly stunning action by one who used to be a constitutional law professor.

The attorneys general of Texas and 25 other states, including South Carolina, quickly filed a lawsuit against that White House edict.

Then early last year, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, based in Brownsville, Texas, granted an injunction blocking the president’s order.

Three months later, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans rejected the Obama administration’s attempt to let the federal government to begin implementing the president’s plan. The Fifth Circuit again upheld the blocking of the executive order last November.

The Justice Department appealed again, so on Monday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case.

Court watchers predictably detected support for the states’ case from conservative justices and for the administration’s case from liberal justices.

With a high court seat vacant due to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia earlier this year, a 4-4 tie looks possible. That would leave the case’s outcome where it stands now — the executive order would remain blocked.

Yet regardless of what transpires in the courtroom, comprehensive immigration reform has been blocked for far too long on Capitol Hill.

And the appropriate judges of what form such changes should take are the federal lawmakers who pass legislation — and yes, the president who could sign such a bill into law.

Long before President Obama steeply upgraded his perspective on how much the White House can legally do on the immigration front, our elected leaders in Washington had failed to forge practical, overdue compromise solutions on this issue.

Unfortunately, extreme positions still dominate the immigration debate, with both sides pandering to their political bases.

Republican front-runner Donald Trump and his main challenger, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, pitch the hard line of rounding up and deporting mass numbers of illegal immigrants.

Even if that goal were attainable (it’s not), it would inflict devastating damage on the U.S. economy, especially the construction, agriculture and hospitality industries.

Meanwhile, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and her only opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, advocate what’s tantamount to an open border. That reckless stance ignores serious public safety, national security and economic risks.

The long-term immigration solution remains comprehensive reform passed by Congress, not imposed by presidential fiat. That landmark legislation should secure the border — and give many of illegal immigrants who have long lived and worked in the U.S. a reasonable route to legal status.

For as President Obama so aptly put it 5½ years ago — before he abandoned this fundamental principle with an overreaching power grab:

“We have a system of government that requires the Congress to work with the executive branch to make it happen.”