Republicans overreaching on immigration?

The Observer editorial board

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz wants to jeopardize Department of Homeland Security funding over an immigration impasse.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz wants to jeopardize Department of Homeland Security funding over an immigration impasse. AP

A federal judge gave Republicans a victory Tuesday when he temporarily put a halt to President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. The injunction from U.S. District judge Andrew Hanen of Texas stops the administration – for now, at least – from launching two new programs that would protect millions more immigrants from deportation.

The ruling is a signal that the president’s executive actions face a bumpy road, at least in Hanen’s court. But can the judge also save Republicans from themselves?

Conservatives are pushing House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to shut down the Department of Homeland Security over the immigration fight. They want to pass a funding measure for DHS with policy riders that would stop the president from implementing the two programs they believe are unconstitutional.

If Senate Democrats filibuster that measure – or if the president vetoes it – Republicans are convinced the American public would blame Democrats for DHS subsequently being shut down.

Most everyone knows how this choreography will go. Republicans will puff their chests and lead us to the edge of a shutdown – or over it. The public will condemn government operations being held hostage by a dispute over policy. Republicans will back down, wondering where they possibly went wrong.

That’s what happened in October 2013 when the public largely blamed Republicans for shutting down the federal government over the Affordable Care Act. It’s what happened last December when Republicans brought us to the brink of another shutdown – this one over immigration – before passing a spending bill.

Now, Judge Hanen has given them a smarter path: Let the courts, not Congress, determine if the president’s executive actions are constitutional.

Hanen hasn’t come to that conclusion yet. His ruling Tuesday merely signals that he feels there’s a good chance he’ll decide against the administration in this case. That wouldn’t be unexpected, given Hanen’s history of rigid rulings on immigration. (It’s why Republicans steered the case toward his district.) But appeals are certain to follow, and both sides are professing confidence.

We’ve expressed uneasiness in this space about the president’s executive actions, which disregard the critical role of Congress in crafting important policy. But we hold out hope that if the courts ultimately rule for the president, Republicans will be compelled to do what they should have done all along – help pass comprehensive immigration reform.

For now, Republicans should back away from the shutdown. It’s possible that on immigration, the president has overstepped the authority of the executive branch. But Republicans don’t have the authority to make that determination. Let the courts do their job.