Obama’s unilateral New Mexico decision could deal death blow to immigration legislation

President Obama’s designation on Wednesday of 500,000 acres of spectacular back country abutting the international border in New Mexico as a National Monument, further deepened the chasm between any executive and legislative branch cooperation.

Acting under the authority of the 1906 Antiquities Act, the president declared the rugged wilderness the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, despite misgivings from law enforcement officials and the congressman who represents the district, according to the Washington Times.

As a result of circumventing the Congress, House Speaker John Boehner described the move as another breach of trust, overshadowing border security and immigration enforcement responsibilities, and imperiling any chance this year of bringing comprehensive immigration reform to a vote.

“The president’s announcement today intensifies those concerns, demonstrating a level of audacity that is remarkable even for this administration,” he said. “Once again, the president has chosen to bypass the legislative branch – and, in this case, do so in a manner that adds yet another challenge in our ongoing efforts to secure our southern border.”

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Obama characterized his grandiose action as in keeping with his January promise to make 2013 a year of action. “Whenever I see an opening to get things done for the American people, I’m going to take it,” he stated. “I’ve said before: I want to work with anyone in Congress who is ready to get to work and shares those goals, but recently they haven’t gotten the job done.”

Republican Rep. Stevan Pearce, who represents the district, had introduced a bill calling for the Monument designation on just 55,000 acres, giving Border Patrol agents freedom of action, while New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall had envisioned a much larger, more sweeping plan.

The president’s maneuver pulled the rug out from any congressional formulation.

The man on the spot who guards the bailiwick, Dona Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison, told the Times that the president’s decision will impede his ability to do his job. “It will create a corridor where smugglers and drug traffickers can operate with impunity,” he said.

In rebuttal, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said that the president’s action will “in no way limit our ability to perform our important border security mission,” the San Jose Mercury News reported.

Ranchers in the area also feel the new designation will adversely affect their grazing rights, which administration officials deny.

Supporters contend the move could generate up to $7.4 million in new business from tourism and investments, and help bolster Bureau of Land Management staffing needs.

On the other hand, Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop had requested Obama to refrain from the stroke of his pen, and allow the issue to wend its way through Congress, with adjustments hashed out for security issues.

“His decision stands and now we have to go back in and try to fix it,” the Mercury reported. “That is just a backwards way of trying to have good government.”

Richard Berkow

Former political news reporter Richard Berkow lost his idealism in the Kennedy years, and his innocence in Vietnam, Lebanon, and the Soviet Union. He hasn’t mellowed since, and can be harassed at [email protected]

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