It is often said that politics is a blood sport. So it seemed fitting that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell would compare President Obama’s immigration policy plans to “waving a red flag in front of a bull.” Perhaps McConnell – celebrating the GOP’s newfound control of the Senate – forgot an important fact: In bullfighting, the matador wins. In this political fight, President Obama will be triumphant if he stands firm in his decision to use his executive authority on immigration.
Our message to the president is to be brave. Go big. Act fast.
President Obama cannot offer a plan with the false expectation that Republicans will compromise, that if he pulls back on using his executive authority, Congress will consider a permanent comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes a path to citizenship and that is acceptable to the Latino community and most voters across the U.S.
The GOP-controlled House repeatedly blocked comprehensive immigration reform and took votes to undo President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for young immigrants. In this election season, conservatives linked foreign terrorists and deadly disease to immigrants.
GOP Republican leaders are now threatening to not work with the president on any issue if he offers immigrant families relief, suggesting he is out of legal bounds. However, President Obama’s legal executive authority is very well established.
In legislative terms, the GOP proposes what the party’s 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney dismissively called “self-deportation.” They would spend hundreds of millions of dollars on Afghanistan War-like military equipment along the U.S.-Mexico border and set unreachable standards to determine whether the border is “secure” before addressing the 11 million undocumented immigrants already living within our borders.
Their framework includes turning a huge portion of our nation’s workforce into indentured servants by creating a “guest worker” program. This tried-and-failed policy is mislabeled because immigrant workers would be anything but “guests” in our country. Their presence would be tied to their sponsoring employer, without the liberty to complain about abuse or mistreatment on the job, under threat of losing their visas and being deported.
Those in Congress who promote this permanent underclass of workers are suggesting that immigrants can sweat it out as maids, landscapers, farm workers, and caregivers so long as they never get basic human, civil and labor rights. And instead of leading us into a just and prosperous future, some in the GOP-controlled Congress want to take our nation back to the 18th century.
The president’s handling of this critical issue will define, not only his legacy, but the moral character of our nation at this moment in history.
By acting boldly and providing administrative relief to support our economy, tightening our national security and ending needless separations of families, President Obama would be wise to set broad eligibility requirements, because the new Congress will see the proposal as the maximum he will fight for. Resolute action would also remind Americans what is possible when there is will.
Executive action should include work permits for every person who has done right by their community and has ties to the U.S., including family, work, and business. The president must instruct his administration to consider deferment of deportation on a case-by-case basis. Eligibility requirements, including the cost for applying, need to be fair so they do not prevent immigrants from signing up.
President Obama’s stated commitment to justice will be backed up by getting rid of programs, such as Secure Communities and the so-called 287(g) program, that encourage aggressive immigration enforcement through agreements between the federal and state and local policing agencies. These practices have created havens of fear instead of collaboration between local law enforcement and communities to weed out true criminals. Immigrants caught up in the immigration courts should have due process rights.
The president let political considerations delay his use of executive authority. Well, exit polls from last week’s election showed voters support comprehensive immigration reform. For our part, Latino participation at the polls grew significantly last week from 2010. And it’s expected to grow more in 2016, even in unlikely places like Georgia. The next resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. will be ushered in because of the Latino vote.
Americans have waited more than 20 years to modernize our broken immigration system. It’s time for the president to act for what is morally right, within his legal authority, and in the best interest of our nation. It’s time for him to take the bull by the horns.