When it comes to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the ban on gays in the military, we've been told over and over again that the president has to enforce the law and only action by Congress can stop the discharges of gays and lesbians—discharged at the rate of two a day since Barack Obama was sworn in—from the military. Congress passed DADT, it's the law, and the president is helpless to do anything about it. (Yesterday seventy-seven members of Congress signed a letter to the president urging him to "use his executive power" to stop discharges under DADT.) The president can't just run around suspending the enforcement of laws he doesn't like, however unjust, however much he might like to. The law's the law.
Tom Banse had a report on NPR this morning about the "widow's penalty." A foreign national who marries a U.S. citizen can apply for permanent residency after a two year waiting period—two years after marrying—but, sorry, if your American spouse dies before your second anniversary, you have to leave the country. And if you don't leave voluntarily the federal government will deport you. It's cold, it's harsh, it's unfair. But it's the law. You know, like DADT: a law passed by Congress, a law that only Congress can repeal, and the administration can't just run around suspending the enforcement of laws it doesn't like. Right? The law's the law. Right?
The widows’ and widowers’ plight came to the attention of Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano within days of her taking office. That according to her spokesman Matt Chandler. He says broader immigration and border policy has proven quite complicated. But this was something Napolitano decided to take an early stab at.
Matt Chandler: “There were some sad cases there. We had a responsibility to not only enforce the laws of this country as they are written, especially as it pertains to immigration. But we also have a responsibility to do so in a practical and commonsense way.”
Napolitano has ordered deportations of surviving spouses and their children deferred for two years. That gives Congress time to fix the law if it chooses to.
So the head of the Department of Homeland Security can suspend the enforcement of the Widow's Penalty in order to give Congress time to "fix the law," but Barack Obama—the President of the United States, Commander in Chief, Janet Napolitano's boss—he can't suspend enforcement of DADT to give Congress time to "fix the law." Is that it? Or is Obama administration only capable of recognizing an injustice and taking action when the lives of heterosexuals are being destroyed?