It seems there’s always a perfectly good reason not to fix our broken immigration system. Another election that may be swung if voters are motivated by whatever action is taken, a party majority that might be won or lost.
This fear of taking action, even the right action, has doomed any attempt at immigration reform in recent years. And, sadly, President Barack Obama has succumbed to the same scaremongering, reversing his plan for action by the end of the summer in an evident appeasement to Senate Democrats worried about losing seats on Nov. 4.
Although the Senate passed a pretty decent comprehensive immigration reform last year, with both more money for border security and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already living here, the House has adamantly refused to take it up.
Inaction on important topics is nothing new for Congress, but when the stories about thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America stacking up at the U.S. border seeking asylum exploded this summer, suddenly the pressure to reform was back on.
Obama, it seemed, was finally going to make it happen. He said that he would break the reform logjam by using his executive action to make changes to the federal immigration policies, Congress be damned. Sure, it might be reversed when he left office, but a lot of good can be accomplished in two years.
Last week, though, he said he wouldn’t do anything big until after the election.
“I’m going to act because it’s the right thing for country, but it’s more sustainable and more effective if the public knows what the facts are,” Obama said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
With all due respect to the country’s commander in chief, horsefeathers.
What facts might change the minds of people who have already decided that a path to citizenship equals amnesty?
How about the fact, reported last week by the Pew Research Center, that 62 percent of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. have done so for more than a decade and about 21 percent for more than two decades? Or the fact that about 4 million of the 10.4 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. have U.S.-born children?
If the president is waiting until facts change minds, he will be waiting forever.
But there is one fact that hasn’t changed: Public opinion polls have consistently found that most Americans recognize that the country’s immigration system needs to be fixed. What they can’t agree on – and probably never will – is how it ought to be done. Another survey by the Pew Research Center in late August found that a slight shift downward of the people who think that reform should include both border security and a path to citizenship – about 41 percent of those responding, down from nearly half of the people asked the year before.
Though Obama protested that the election was the reason for the delay, he did acknowledge that the “politics did shift midsummer” by the influx of immigrant minors and the resulting demonstrations at immigration processing centers.
“I want to make sure we get it right,” Obama said Sunday.
Getting it done is getting it right. And maybe, just maybe, the polls would be kind to a president who took courageous action no matter how many reasons there were not to do so.