The rise of the Islamic State, Hamas aggression against Israel, Russia’s revanchism in Eastern Europe and China’s territorial assertion in the Pacific have ended the most recent spell of U.S. isolationist delusion. Disparate in nature, these international crises share common features: exploitation of perceived U.S. weakness and repudiation of an international system that recognizes the territorial integrity of nation-states. Addressing these challenges must begin at home.
While President Obama promised to fundamentally change America, few realized his policies would fundamentally weaken it. Yet, the administration’s defense priorities and international retrenchment increasingly reflect a pre-Sept. 11, 2001 mindset. Moreover, the administration has sought to erode America’s national identity by dissolving our borders and nullifying immigration laws essential to U.S. sovereignty and security.
Our Founders pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to establish American citizenship for themselves and future generations. We have a duty to protect and extend this heritage of liberty and equal opportunity to all U.S. citizens. This is the citizenship our armed forces and intelligence community defend with valor and distinction. This is the citizenship each American honors when pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States. This is the citizenship for which generations of Americans have fought and died. It is not for sale, and it is beyond the province of any president to define, degrade or diminish.
Article I, Section 8, Clause 4 of the Constitution provides Congress exclusive authority over the naturalization and legal status of noncitizens. When asked whether he could lawfully defer enforcement of the immigration laws on Sept. 28, 2011, Mr. Obama clearly recognized this by replying: “This notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is not true. The fact of the matter is there are laws on the books I have to enforce. We live in a democracy. You have to pass bills through the legislature, and then I can sign it.” These statements were as true then as they are today.
Yet, in his recent Labor Day address, the president previewed a potential pretext to further nullify the immigration laws by comparing their enforcement to historic gender, racial and voter discrimination. But Americans recognize the obvious: a right to illegal immigration would eliminate America’s sovereign and independent right to determine who may enter and remain in this country. America is a country of immigrants, but it is no less sovereign than any other. Our laws and Constitution simply do not recognize a right to illegal immigration that would annul both.
Mr. Obama is not the only senior executive official to challenge the validity of America’s immigration laws and the citizenship they preserve. Earlier this year, Vice President Joe Biden declared: “You know, 11 million people that [sic] are living in the shadows. I believe they’re already American citizens.” Shortly afterward, likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton praised as “incredibly brave” a self-professed illegal immigrant who said it is “extremely difficult to empower myself to get a job, to vote.”
In January, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson — who oversees U.S. Border Patrol as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement — concluded that awarding U.S. citizenship to unlawful immigrants is “frankly, in my judgment, a matter of who we are as Americans.” In April 2013, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. declared that “creating a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in this country is absolutely essential. This is a matter of civil and human rights.” The origin, scope and applicability of these rights remains unexplained.
Last December, Texas-based U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen wrote that “[the government] has simply chosen not to enforce the United States’ border-security laws.” This failure has produced what The Los Angeles Times called an “unprecedented surge” of illegal immigrants arriving at a rate of more than 35,000 per month. Violent gangs and potential terrorists exploit the chaos to enter undetected. Americans are denied basic information concerning the health, status and location of tens of thousands of recent arrivals. Schools, hospitals and social services — particularly in urban areas hit hard by the uneven economic recovery — are under immense and growing fiscal strain.
According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released last week, 59 percent of Americans disapprove of the president’s approach to immigration. Bowing to “shifting politics,” Mr. Obama now pledges to invalidate the immigration laws after the 2014 midterm elections. Taking unilateral action he conceded to be unlawful will diminish the legacy of a president who pledged to restore the rule of law and further damage electoral confidence in his party.
In a few short years, a post-World War II international system built on U.S. strength and respect for the integrity of nation-states demarcated by recognized borders has virtually collapsed. The Islamic State occupies portions of Iraq and Syria and has pledged to erase the map of the Middle East. Hamas flouts international norms, transgresses international boundaries and has rained thousands of rockets upon Israeli civilian centers.
Russia rejected Ukrainian sovereignty when annexing Crimea. Russian President Vladimir Putin openly threatens neighboring countries with economic coercion, subsidized subversion or direct military confrontation. China harasses U.S. military aircraft in international airspace, intimidates our regional allies, and has threatened to seize key islands subject to competing territorial claims.
U.S. efforts to restore international stability have been rebuffed, its calls to respect international boundaries predictably ignored. For why would foreign powers respect the “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity” of neighboring states when this administration won’t respect ours? How can our international allies expect this administration to defend the integrity of their citizenship as it seeks to unilaterally redefine our own?
America can no longer afford to “lead from behind.” International stability depends upon strengthened national security. We must rebuild our defense and intelligence capabilities. We must reassert American international resolve, and we must help restore the fundamental principles of an international order predicated upon respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of nation-states. Beginning with our own.
Robert N. Tracci served as chief legislative counsel and parliamentarian to the House Judiciary Committee, deputy assistant attorney general, and special assistant U.S. attorney.