With the midterm elections now out of the way and the Democrats licking the wounds they received at the hands of the Republicans, President Obama is poised to take executive action on immigration as early as this week. The Republicans say he can’t, but the president does not seem to care what the GOP says or does, nor should he.
Whether the Republican leadership realizes it or not, Obama is setting a trap for them. And if history is any guide, they will stay true to form and take the bait. Republicans hate the president, and they may hate the idea of illegal immigrants even more — particularly Latinos and other brown and black folks who don’t speak English. They just can’t help themselves.
The president has put together a 10-point plan on immigration that could protect up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, nearly double the number who received amnesty three decades ago. In 1986, 2.7 million people received green cards and permanent residency under Ronald Reagan.
Obama’s immigration plan would increase so-called “deferred action” for the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents and those who came to the U.S. as children. The president also wants to increase pay for ICE officers and strengthen border security, discontinue and replace a controversial program that collects fingerprints from local jails, prioritize the deportation of serious criminals, and expand “parole” for the relatives of American soldiers to include relatives of American citizens. Further, the White House plan would encourage citizenship, expand waivers to the children and spouses of permanent residents, and increase visas for workers in the high-tech sector.
Republicans will have none of it, with the promise to fight Obama tooth and nail if he goes solo on immigration. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said such a move would “poison the well” of comprehensive immigration reform.
President Obama should and must use his executive power to make this happen. There is no downside to his acting on immigration reform, and the benefits are many.
For one, this is the right thing to do. The president promised he would take these steps. That he waited until after the election was a misstep that may have cost Democrats some key elections, as former President Bill Clinton suggests. Clinton believes Obama should not succumb to the “lame duck” mentality and should boldly try to push his agenda in his final two years in office.
After all, what does he have to lose? We all know the Republicans will not pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation — or anything else the people want — and while the Senate passed legislation, the House had the chance and refused on the grounds that all 11 million undocumented people should be thrown out of the country. Rather, the GOP has criminalized immigrants under the pejorative term “illegal” in order to stir up their white conservative base of supporters and get out the vote. Scapegoating immigrants as drug-running, murderous, Ebola-spreading, Islamic-Mexican terrorists is a winner if you’re trying to win the Skeeter vote and no one else.
Meanwhile, no president has deported more people under his watch than the current occupant of the White House. And it makes for bad optics. Last year, the U.S. expelled 369,000 immigrants from the country, for a total of around 2 million since the start of the Obama administration. Not unlike the mass incarceration of blacks and Latinos, this mass deportation mess is separating families and disrupting communities, and decent people cannot allow it to continue. Now is the time for President Obama to cement his legacy and right a grave wrong.
With certainty, Republicans will respond by shutting down the government or, even worse, impeaching the president. But this is their shtick, part of their stage act. You know they would find some other reason to shut down a government they hate and a black president they despise with every fiber of their being. And if they do impeach Obama, as they did with Clinton, history suggests it will have limited to no impact on the president and could result in a GOP downfall. The public will view such an extreme action as a political ploy and a clear example of Republican overreach and abuse of power. This must be part of the president’s calculus.
Moreover, Obama has learned his lesson and is not wasting precious time trying to make nice and work together with adversaries who seek his undoing. To his credit, ultimately to his detriment, he attempted that in the first few years of his administration, all for nothing. He has the power to act because he is the president, and this is why the public elected him. This is what presidents do.
Meanwhile, the Latino community is watching — watching President Obama and the GOP response to the Obama executive action. Latinos are the largest so-called minority group in America, and Latinos and Asians are the fastest growing demographic groups in the U.S., a fact which is changing the look and flavor of the country, particularly in regions such as the South. As a result, some red states will begin to shift from purple to blue. In three decades, the population will be majority of color, and alreadya majority of babies born in the U.S. are black and brown.
It does not take a political scientist to know the Republicans are digging their grave for generations to come if they think a raw appeal to white racism, xenophobia and intolerance is a winning strategy. For a party boxing itself into a corner in presidential elections by alienating everyone who is not white, the Republicans have a real problem. And Latinos will remember who stood with them and helped keep their families together and who called them illegals. Obama knows this.