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A Nation of Paper, Not of Men

In continuing the dramatic shift from American constitutional democracy to rule by executive fiat that has marked his tenure, President Barack Obama now claims that the illegal aliens, to whom he purports to grant what effectively is amnesty, are "Americans ... in every single way but one -- on paper." That is false. They are not Americans under the only thing that matters, the thing the Obama administration has chanted like a mantra -- while riding roughshod over  -- since its very first day in power: the rule of law.

The Constitution and congressional statutes are written on parchment. That is the only relevance of "paper" in this equation -- as the "hard copy" of our social contract and of the laws enacted pursuant to it. Under the Constitution, Congress, not the president, is endowed with such a power: "To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization." Congress exercises this power by passing laws. Under the Constitution, which Obama took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend, and under the laws it is his duty to execute faithfully, illegal aliens -- no matter how sympathetic their plight, no matter how blameless they may be for the illegality of their status -- are not citizens of the United States. They are not Americans. Period. It is not "paper" that separates them from our body politic, it is the law, of which Obama is supposed to be servant, not master -- as I argued in this September 2011 essay for The New Criterion: "The Ruler of Law -- On 'Justice' in the Age of Obama."

Nevertheless, immigration is only the context of the president's latest usurpation. It is a critically important issue, yes, but the real gravity of what Obama has done lies not in the subject matter of his edict but in the authoritarian assumptions of its issuance. They transcend mere arrogance: the president proposes to eviscerate our constitutional system. He claims nothing less than the dictatorial power to pronounce what the law is. This usurpation, moreover, complements the dictatorial powers he has already claimed to enforce only the laws of his choosing and to use the police powers of his office to deprive the sovereign states and the people of their constitutional prerogatives and rights.

To be sure, a president has not only the authority but the duty to refrain from enforcing congressional statutes that violate the Constitution. Presidents are no less duty-bound in this regard than the federal courts, which are obliged to hold that such enactments are null and void when the question arises in litigation. That, however, is not what Obama is doing.