The long-awaited action by President Barack Obama to bypass a divided Congress and enact his own immigration reform finally came Thursday evening. It’s a relief, especially for the 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 and illegal. They threatened lawsuits, 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.
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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 is an undocumented man who had been deported twice.
Better if Jones had addressed his message to the GOP. Immigration reform is Congress’ job, at which it has failed miserably for more than a decade.
The GOP’s reaction to the president’s action is not surprising, though disingenuous. Obama’s modest deportation relief plan is hardly groundbreaking. Both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush used their executive action power to grant deportation relief to certain immigrant populations. Congress didn’t sue.
The action Obama outlined Thursday night includes deportation relief and work authorization that applies to people we want to come out from the shadows: undocumented resident parents of citizens and others who have lived here for more than five years and contributed to our communities and economy. They must pass background checks and pay back taxes before qualifying. It also lifts the age limit on DREAMers, children brought to the country without permission, and includes more resources for border security.
Although the deportation relief doesn’t specifically carve out agricultural workers, thousands of them will potentially benefit. According to the United Farm Workers, about 250,000 farmworkers nationwide, half of them in California, will be eligible.
If there’s anything disappointing about Obama’s action, it’s that it does not allow the people who qualify for deportation relief to participate in health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
We do agree with House Republicans that executive action is not the ideal way to address immigration. It isn’t permanent and won’t create a path to citizenship, but it’s the best we’ve got right now.
There’s a way for Congress to win this debate, however, one that’s easier than lawsuits and impeachment and that deprives Obama a political victory to boot: Pass a comprehensive reform bill.
Boy, that would show ’em.