Fixing the country’s broken immigration system should be an open and deliberative process that involves give-and-take among the many voices in search of the best solutions.
That’s the proper way to move the country forward on this divisive issue.
But that’s unlikely to happen now that President Barack Obama has acted alone. His executive actions have inflamed his opponents in Congress while offering only a fleeting reprieve for fewer than half of the 11 million immigrants in this country illegally. By acting now, rather than giving the new Congress a few months to consider reforms, Obama all but ensures that the immigration debate drags on beyond the 2016 elections without substantive reforms.
Why would Republicans, just weeks after a midterm election that repudiated the president’s policies, work with someone who ignores their pleas and calls them out on national television?
It’s not that we disagree entirely with the substance of the executive actions. Deportation protections will be extended to the parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, provided those parents have been in the country for five years. And a program that protects from deportation the children of immigrants brought here illegally will be expanded. The measures are meant to keep families together. Obama also is targeting for deportation illegal immigrants who commit crimes or only recently crossed the border.
But the president’s unilateral action in imposing those measures is offensive to our system of government. Getting significant legislation passed in Congress, when controlled by an opposition party, is no easy task. Our president should be expected to fight through the setbacks and work to find a solution. Instead, he chooses to stretch the bounds of his executive authority on a matter of great national importance.
Republicans have a right to be incensed. They reacted Friday by filing a lawsuit challenging Obama’s unilateral actions last year in delaying certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Perhaps a ruling on that lawsuit will more clearly define the limits of Obama’s power. But Republicans should resist calls from extreme voices to act with virulence. Shutting down the government or encouraging talk of impeachment will be damaging to the country and shift the debate away from Obama’s offensive act.
One of the frustrations over the prolonged immigration debate is that many people in both major parties agree in broad terms on some of the fixes that need to occur. Strengthening our borders and finding a path to citizenship for law-abiding and hardworking immigrants were two tenets of a bipartisan bill the Senate passed last year. But the House refused to consider it.
A skilled chief executive could be expected to build on the Senate’s momentum. Obama grew frustrated when the House did not reverse course and has abandoned the battlefield. He has given a speech, signed some papers and left it to others to finish the job. That may be the defining characteristic of his presidency.