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Editorial: Obama has change of heart, decides he is an ’emperor’

After years of insisting he didn’t have the authority to effect immigration reform on his own, President Obama has changed his mind. Now, he says, he does have that power.

Here’s a sampling of what he said then:

Oct. 25, 2010: “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.”

March 28, 2011: “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.”

Feb. 14, 2013: “The problem is that I’m the president of the United States, I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed.”

March 6, 2014: “…until Congress passes a new law, then I am constrained in terms of what I am able to do.”

Here’s what he said Thursday evening:

“The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every Democratic president for the past half century.”

He didn’t say exactly what had changed since March, so apparently he has decided he is emperor, after all.

In Thursday’s speech, Obama said he was tired of waiting for Congress to act and exerted what he claims is his executive authority to alter immigration rules. But it should be noted that he cynically put off employing this power until after the mid-term elections to give Democratic Party candidates cover, then decided not to wait for the people’s newly elected Congress to have a crack at passing legislation.

The Journal has long editorialized in favor of immigration reform, whether comprehensive or done as separate bills. The editorial board saw many positives in what the Senate attempted in passing a bill in 2013. Immigration is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Obama’s new actions could grant 4 million to 5 million people now in the country illegally the permission to stay in the United States without the worry of deportation. They would have to pass background checks and pay back taxes. Those who may be eligible include undocumented parents of children who were born in the United States and so are citizens.

Other elements of the plan include more protections for undocumented immigrants who came into the country as children. In 2012 Obama gave many of them a break when he enacted the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” program.

Deportations will continue, but Obama says the focus will be on criminals. And there will be border security initiatives intended to make it harder for additional immigrants to enter the country illegally.

Recent and future arrivals will still be deported.

Obama, under his previous way of thinking, has deported more illegal immigrants than any other president. But his new assertion of executive powers – while not the comprehensive reform envisioned by the Senate – sends the message to those who are already in the pipeline for legal citizenship that they took the wrong turn in trying to go through legal channels.

It will also send the message to people considering whether to break the law in coming here illegally, whatever the chances of being caught, that it’s worth a try to make it across the border in hopes of another break somewhere down the line.

After all, the U.S. addressed the issue with “comprehensive reform” in 1986 that offered amnesty to some 3 million people. Now here we are again with 11 million people living in the shadows.

Part of the immigration debate boils down to how much poverty the U.S. wants to accept and at what cost to society when it comes to providing services and safety net benefits the newcomers will need. The largest group of illegal immigrants are from Mexico and are often unskilled.

According to statistics compiled by the Center for Immigration Studies, as reported by The Atlantic, nearly two-thirds of immigrants from Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala and their U.S.-born children live in poverty or near-poverty.

While Obama did not cover federal entitlements in his speech, it would be hard to believe the United States would allow people it has welcomed but who are living in poverty to simply go without food or other necessities of life. And health care is already available through emergency rooms.

If the new Congress is finally able to pass immigration reform – which it should and which the president has said he prefers – Obama says his executive orders will expire.

But what if the law falls short of his initiatives or simply doesn’t address all of them? Will he use his claim of executive authority to change that, too?

What’s really needed is for Congress to weigh the costs and benefits of immigration reform, pass a bill and send it to the president to sign or veto. Congress may have dropped the ball on immigration, but the president appears to have run with it out of bounds for cynical, political reasons.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.