The U.S. Supreme Court’s deadlock Thursday on President Obama’s immigration policy was an unpleasant reminder of just how hideous the federal government can be.
The court’s breakdown left intact a federal appeals court injunction blocking enforcement of Obama’s policy. And it left in limbo the lives of millions of people who may have been brought here illegally but have never known any other home than America.
The ruling brought back nasty memories of a series of columns I wrote at the Billings Outpost about people in Montana who faced deportation because they weren’t here legally. I don’t remember all of the details, and the columns are not available on line, but one of the cases involved Laurent Zirotti, the first chef at Enzo’s restaurant on Billings’ West End.
He was from France and had been specifically recruited from the French Riviera to get the upscale restaurant off the ground. The restaurant’s founders tried hard to jump through all the hoops, including getting free legal assistance and a letter of support from then-U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. Yet the chef still had to fight immigration authorities for years.
The most personally compelling case I examined was that of Wolfgang von Eitzen, a native German who had a business in Billings and had an American wife and child. The case took far too many twists and turns to recount here, even if I could remember them, but von Eitzen’s wife retyped one of my stories. The upshot was that he was deported back to Hamburg and was unable to return to Montana, even when his American wife was dying.
Von Eitzen got on a lot of people’s nerves. He unblushingly pushed his right-wing views. Sometimes, I thought, he was his own worst enemy in his fight with authorities.
But as I covered his troubles over the years, we sort of became friends. I spent hours reading his legal documents. My wife and I had dinner with him and his wife. One Christmas, he gave us a video of German carols.
He was convinced that somebody with political pull was stacking the deck against him. He couldn’t prove it, and neither could I, but after a while it was hard to imagine any other explanation.
So I was relieved when the U.S. Senate passed, 68-32, comprehensive immigration reform in 2013. I was disappointed when the House refused to even consider the bill, despite clear evidence that it would have passed.
And I was relieved again when President Obama signed an executive order pushing his own authority as far as he could to make sense of immigration policy. As much as I hate government by executive order, his policy tried to establish a fair framework to avoid the worst abuses of existing law, which is both unjust and unenforceable.
The Congress of 2013 now seems like a glorious era of statesmanship compared to Congress in 2016. The House spread its deep dysfunction to the Senate, which spread its own dysfunction to the Supreme Court by failing to consider Obama’s impeccably qualified Supreme Court appointment.
Now the Supreme Court has spread its dysfunction to the executive branch—a total breakdown in all three branches of the federal government.
So when Democrats in the House staged a sit-in this week, trying to force a vote on gun control, they were trying to jump start an engine firing on no cylinders. Republicans dismissed the action as a political stunt, which of course it was.
When government no longer works, stunts are all we have left.