The long-awaited action by President Obama to bypass a divided Congress and enact deportation relief for nearly half the undocumented immigrants in the U.S. finally came Thursday evening. It’s a help, especially for the nearly 5 million people who live under the constant fear of being separated from their families and homes.
Now the backlash begins.
Actually, it has already begun. On Thursday, in the hours leading up to Obama’s prime-time address to the nation, Republicans took to the media to launch every verbal assault in their arsenal. They pronounced the action unconstitutional, illegal and an usurpation. They threatened lawsuits and impeachment and revenge in the form of obstructionism.
Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks, never one to shy away from an incendiary quote, even suggested that the president could be thrown in jail for up to five years for aiding and abetting criminals.
Even Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones got into the partisan politicking by releasing a video on the eve of this announcement chiding the president for his hands-off immigration policies. In the video, Jones encourages the president to adopt “meaningful immigration reform” while invoking the recent death of one of his deputies killed in a shootout. The suspect in that crime was an undocumented man who had been deported twice.
Better if Jones had addressed his message to the GOP. The president can’t adopt reform, meaningful or otherwise. That’s Congress’s job, at which it has failed miserably for more than a decade.
The House of Representatives, as President Obama noted, could have passed immigration reform in the last two years. Bipartisan support was there, but Republican Speaker John Boehner wasn’t willing to bring a bill to a vote because it didn’t have support from a majority of GOP members.
Obama’s modest deportation relief plan is hardly groundbreaking — and it comes with additional funding for border security. Two past presidents, Republicans Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, set the precedent by using their executive action power to grant deportation relief to certain immigrant populations. Congress didn’t sue.
What Obama outlined only applies to undocumented residents if they have been here at least five years, go through a background check and pay back taxes. Although the deportation relief doesn’t specifically carve out agricultural workers, which would have been a legal weakness, thousands of them will potentially benefit — as will farmers scurrying to find workers. According to the United Farm Workers, about 250,000 farmworkers nationwide, about half of whom are working in California, will be eligible.
The GOP’s reaction to the president’s action is not surprising, though disingenuous. But we do agree that executive action is not ideal. It isn’t permanent and won’t solve the bigger issues of border security.
There’s a simple solution, however, easier than lawsuits and impeachment procedures, and one that would deprive Obama of an immigration victory to boot: Pass a comprehensive reform bill.
Boy, that would show ’em.