Most of the reactions to President Obama’s latest move on immigration have focused on what it will do. Let’s look at some of the things it won’t do.
Although the president announced he’ll defer deportation proceedings against more than 4 million undocumented immigrants, he did not:
• Give them a path to permanent legal status or any guarantee that the next president won't deport them.
• Provide them with the benefits of Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and a host of federal assistance programs.
• Do much of anything about the 6 million-plus other immigrants who are living in the United States illegally.
• Get tough on employers who depress low-end wages by hiring recent border-crossers without work permits.
• Expand temporary visas for the seasonal farm laborers who sustain American agriculture.
• Make it easier for would-be immigrants to enter the country legally. Some have waited patiently for 15 or 20 years while watching millions jump the line.
In other words, Obama’s action is not remotely a solution for the country’s immigration dilemmas. A real, permanent, lawful solution can only come from Congress, whose Republican leaders are now vowing retribution against a president they believe has attacked their constitutional authority.
Allowing the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens to remain in this country is a humane policy. Much as Americans want to see their borders secured and immigration laws enforced, few want to see mothers and fathers with deep roots in this country ripped from their children.
We wish it hadn’t happened this way. The most prominent constitutional lawyer in the nation – Barack Obama – has repeatedly and persuasively argued that the president doesn’t have the power to go this far. As he pointed out before he changed his mind in an election year, a president is constitutionally bound to faithfully execute the law, not what he wishes were the law.
One problem with any expansion of executive prerogatives is that the power tends to stay expanded. Those cheering this stretch of prosecutorial discretion won’t be as jubilant if a Republican successor to Obama bestows, say, broad environmental exemptions on corporations.
But Congress – specifically the House of Representatives – is not the good guy here. As Obama has also pointed out, the House had many opportunities to vote on immigration legislation of its own. Its Republican leaders stood in the way.
A minority of Republicans ferociously oppose any proposal to give legal status to any undocumented immigrants. Their opposition does not connect with reality: It would be logistically impossible to deport the more than 11 million people in this country illegally even if a majority of Americans would tolerate it. Yet the fire-breathers have effectively paralyzed the House on this issue.
There’s always tomorrow. If congressional Republicans were smart, they would approve legislation that solves the problems the president did not solve, a more congenial version of the big bipartisan reform bill the Senate approved last year.
They’ve been attacking Obama’s new deportation decision as lawless. But the status quo – 11 million-plus immigrants living in the shadows – was also lawless. To remedy lawlessness, Congress should do what its members are elected to do: Pass a law.