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Syrian Poison Gas - CIR Poison Pills: Will Obama Act If Congress Says No? R. Algase

Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.
Update: September 1, 7:00 pm

Michael Hirsch writes in a September 1 National Journal article: On the verge of appeasement in Syria, that President Obama, by asking Congress for approval which he doesn't need for strikes against Assad's poison gas regime, comes off looking like a latter day Neville Chamberlain.

Hirsch also quotes Susan Page, writing in USA Today, as saying that Obama has weakened his own presidency. While I have made clear that this blog has no position on Syrian intervention because it is concerned with immigration law and policy only, anything that makes Obama look weak on something as important as Syria is also likely to put him in a weaker position with Congress on another critical issue, immigration reform.

If the president is willing to give Congress the last word on whether Assad will be able to get away with gassing hundreds of innocent children, and perhaps untold numbers of additional ones in the future, then why would the president not also give Congress the last word on whether or not to round up and deport 11 million men women and children, even though there is ample legal authority for Plan B executive action to legalize them?

This show of weakness on Syria is not the best way to convince House Republicans that the president would be prepared to respond with strong executive action if the House does the same thing to CIR with its poison pills that Assad is doing to the children of Syria with his poison gas.

This update was posted on the evening of August 31, shortly after President Obama's announcement that he will seek Congressional approval for a strike against Syria.

Lots of luck with that, Mr. President.


As I mentioned originally, this blog is not about whether a US attack or military strike against Syria, whatever one calls it, is a good idea or not. Doubtless, the murderous Syrian regime must delighted with the "postponement", but so are millions of Americans, ranging from progressives on the left to David Koch and Sarah Palin on the right.

There might also be reason for immigration reform advocates to feel relieved. CIR is already competing for attention with many other urgent issues - debt ceiling limits, government shutdowns, etc. Having Congressional attention diverted this fall by a major war, if that is what a military strike would lead to, could be the last thing that CIR needs to get passed by the House.

But this argument assumes that genuine immigration reform, as opposed to the ersatz, enforcement-first, mockeries of reform that are masquerading under the name of "piecemeal" bills in the House, really has a chance in that Chamber.

That may be as realistic as expecting the Assad regime to sit down with the rebels tomorrow and work out a harmonious coalition government deal leading to democratic elections in the immediate future.

The initial reaction to the president's decision to postpone strikes and ask for Congressional approval that no one thinks he will ever get is one of weakness, hesitation and lack of trustworthiness on his part - Paper Tiger, might be the best phrase - mixed with opportunism and the fear of doing anything unpopular, even if it is the right thing to do, as many people believe it is.

If the President can waffle so easily on responding to genocide in Syria, is he really willing to go to bat for and implement Plan B and suspend deportations after the House, as expected by many reform supporters, demolishes CIR with poison pills instead of poison gas?

By today's postponement of action against Syria. the president may also be projecting weakness in the battle for immigration reform.

The following is a revised version of my original post on the morning of August 31.

In their August 30 Immigration Daily article, Gary Endelman and Cyrus Mehta raise the question of a connection between the issue of possible US intervention in Syria and American immigration policy - namely that a country which claims the right to take military action against another for humanitarian reasons also needs a humane immigration policy to bolster its moral standing.

One might also point out that according to media estimates, at least 400 people die in the desert each year trying to reach the US from Mexico. Where is America's moral superiority in this regard?

To take another example, the US has been trying to arrange for an envoy to visit Pyongyang to negotiate the release of a US citizen who was sentenced to a long term in one of North Korea's horrendous labor camps for entering that country illegally.

No doubt, our own immigration prisons are not as bad as the North Korean labor camps - not quite. But should that be the standard for how America treats people whom it doesn't want in this country?

There is also another connection between Syria and CIR (other, than the fact that, coincidentally the two words sound similar). This is that both situations are ones where the Obama administration may have to go it alone.


With regard to Syria, this post is not the place to discuss whether US military action against Syria would be a good or a bad idea. As Gary Endelman and Cyrus Mehta suggest, there are those who would compare Syria to Iraq, and others who would compare it to Rwanda.

(I happen to lean toward the Rwanda comparison myself, but this is in part because I have had the privilege of meeting someone from that country who heads an organization working with Rwandan genocide refugees in the US - I have heard about some of their terrifying stories.)

But my personal opinion about intervention in Syria is beside the point. What is important is that both intervention in Syria to try to prevent further atrocities, and granting legalization and a chance at a normal life free from fear and persecution to 11 million unauthorized immigrants may in all likelihood require the Obama administration to act on its own.

With regard to Syria, if the president decides to take action, it will be without the cover of a UN resolution, any "Coalition of the Willing", or even the support of our usual ally in this kind of business, the UK, not to mention lack of consent of Congress, whether required by law or not.

And in the case of legalization, any action by the administration may also have to take place without the consent of Congress. Almost every day, we see yet another story about House Republicans' delay and obstruction in their attempt to kill CIR. The latest item is a warning from the White House not to expect any action from the House on immigration reform, even the pathetic "piecemeal" versions which have already been introduced, before October.

But this doesn't mean we can count on anything actually happening in October, as Jonathan Bernstein points out in his August 28 Washington Post column The GOP, not the calendar, is the obstacle for immigration reform.

President Obama has the means to take action against Syrian poison gas through military action and against Republican CIR poison pills through Plan B executive action extending DACA to wider classes of immigrants and putting a hold on deportations in the meantime.

Whether military strikes against the genocidal Syrian regime would be wise may be open to debate, but there should be no doubt about the necessity for implementing Plan B, if House Republicans continue to use their weapons of mass destruction against immigration reform.

A strong case for executive action is made the article Obama's Immigration Nuclear Option: Stopping Deportations Unilaterally, Atlantic Monthly, August 29.

Whether the issue is Syria or CIR, acting unilaterally requires political courage. If President Obama needs to go it alone in order to implement legalization, will he have the courage?

Posted by Roger Algase
Attorney at Law

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Updated 09-04-2013 at 04:51 AM by ImmigrationLawBlogs

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