We don’t need a Rockwell painting to remind us that Thanksgiving is all about those who came to this nation as immigrants. Everyone, of course, except the Native Americans. The Pilgrims came to escape religious persecution. My great grandparents did it in the 1800’s. At some point, your forebears did it as well. Wave after wave throughout our history left their homes, endured challenging voyages and , with little to their names, worked hard and helped to build this nation. So what’s the matter with the Republican Congressional leadership?
The answer is basically Obama. The President has called their bluff. A year and a half after the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill House Speaker John Boehner has yet to take it up. The simplest answer to the President’s executive order is for the orange man to bring the Senate bill to the floor or pass a House bill and let the differences be worked out in conference committee. The Republican response, however, is to sue the President for overreaching.
Let’s be clear. Every President except William Henry Harrison has issued executive orders, and he didn’t because he died a month after taking office. The most ever issued was 3721, by our longest serving President Franklin Roosevelt. Jimmy Carter issued 371; Ronald Reagan, 381; Bill Clinton, 364; George W., 291 . Barack Obama has issued 193. Obviously, there’s a wide range of substance among these orders.
Obama’s most recent would put a hold on deportation for three years for the parents of children who are citizens or legal residents. Those adults would have to have been here for five years and face criminal background checks. This would not be a path to citizenship. About 5 million of the 11 million undocumented individuals would be able to come out of the shadows and pay taxes. And there would be more flexibility in the H-1B visa program for high-skilled foreign-born workers. More resources would be deployed to deporting criminals.
A majority of the public favors these changes and more reforms of our immigration program. (Even many Republicans acknowledge we can’t deport all 11 million people who came or remained here illegally.) But a majority also disapproves making changes by executive order.
What is particularly disconcerting is the number of times (including March, April and September of 2011 and February and September of 2013) that the President said he can’t reform immigration by executive order, that “The path is through Congress,” “I am not the emperor,” and “My job is to execute laws that are passed.” Perhaps he was talking about comprehensive reform and not about his recent decision. Clearly he had the authority to do what he is doing now but chose not to do so for a variety of reasons, especially the obvious political ones having to do with the election. He outsmarted himself by holding back before the election to help red and purple state Democrats, who went down to defeat.
Now he’ll have to demonstrate that what he has done by executive order is not an overreach, that it is, as he put it, “a commonplace middle ground approach.” I believe he can make that case. The better path would be for John Boehner, seeking to mitigate the anti-immigrant stench of the GOP before the 2016 election, to play statesman and get the House to pass a bill by the end of the year. In the holiday spirit, I’d like to believe that, too, would be possible, but I fear that, when it comes to immigration, there’s a greater chance he’ll prove to be the Thanksgiving turkey once again.
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