In the last decade, millions of words have been spoken and written on the subject of illegal immigration. Proponents and opponents alike have drawn on history, philosophy, faith, economics, and sociology to argue both for and against concepts like amnesty. One would think, with all the controversy over the last six years, President Obama’s point of view on the topic would be well known. However, as the New York Times pointed out on Tuesday, Obama’s own words on immigration are coming back to haunt him.

The Times recalls an interview the president did with Telemundo just last year, where he said the “Dreamers” act he signed into law could not easily be applied to a broadened group of immigrants. “If we start broadening that, then essentially I’ll be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally. So that’s not an option.”

Curious that he would make such a remark when his assumed executive action would do just that. According to published reports on the nature of his proposed amnesty, he would implement deferred deportations not just for unaccompanied minors but also for their parents. What is that, if not a broadening of the original act? How is it we went from “very difficult to defend legally” to “legally unassailable,” as a White House official described it last week?

Obama defends the discrepancy by saying he was originally referring to his capability of pushing the Senate’s immigration package into law. He maintained that the kind of comprehensive reform seen in the bill would have forced him beyond the powers of his executive authority. Presumably, he believes the 10-point plan he’s rumored to announce before the end of November does not exceed his authority.

The Power of the Presidency

But regardless of what the president believes, the question remains: does he possess the legal authority to carry out his executive action on amnesty? The very fact that the question remains unanswered should be a clue that Obama is wading into dangerous waters. And when the President of the United States begins to do things that can easily be characterized as “unprecedented,” vigilant defenders of democracy should be on high alert.

There are countless reasons why his version of immigration reform should be opposed, but that’s almost a secondary issue to the more important consideration: is this White House operating outside the confines of the executive branch?

That these boundaries are being pushed by a one-time constitutional law scholar makes it all the more unsettling. This goes beyond issues of Republicans vs. Democrats, left vs. right. It could have dramatic ramifications for the future of our government. Our democracy is based on an essential system of checks and balances. It only works when the branches of government are limited in their powers. When we turn a blind eye to excessive power grabs, today’s “unprecedented” turns into tomorrow’s precedent. And once power has been seized, it’s not easy to take it back.