Viewpoints

Ruben Navarrette: On immigration, a farce of debate

SAN DIEGO – The immigration debate has always been flawed. But lately, as Washington has taken on a greater role, it has become farcical.

The debate is flawed because it is dishonest, lacks nuance, and offers simple solutions to a complicated problem.

It is farcical because, like everything else in Washington, it’s driven by politics not policy.

Republicans in Congress don’t have to do anything to fix our broken system, as long as they give the appearance of staying busy by thwarting the actions of others. A Democratic president – who set records by deporting more than 2 million people in six years, then conned immigrant advocates into labeling him a hero by easing up on his own juggernaut – can afford to be bad on immigration as long as his opponents are perceived as worse.

Which brings us to the moment at hand.

As the White House and Congress play chicken with a possible shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, a federal judge in Texas this week blocked President Barack Obama’s executive action delaying millions of deportations.

Republicans in Congress don’t have to like the fact that Obama is trying to delay for three years the deportation of, for instance, undocumented parents with U.S.-born children, but they had better learn to live with it.

With the Islamic State killing Americans and making enemies all over the world, and while Islamic militants commit acts of terror from Brussels to Paris to Copenhagen, the GOP picked a dandy time to withhold funding for, of all things, the Department of Homeland Security.

If Congress doesn’t pass a spending bill by Feb. 28, some DHS workers will likely be furloughed while others will be asked to work without pay. Morale at the agency will take a beating.

A new CNN/Opinions Research Corp. poll found that, if DHS were to shut down, Republicans would take most of the blame. Fifty-three percent of Americans would fault Republicans in Congress, while 30 percent would blame Obama. Another 13 percent would blame both.

Republicans need to back off the funding threat. If they are dead-set to go to battle over Obama’s executive action – a blunder that would enrage Latino voters in time for the 2016 election – then the GOP should continue to take the fight to the courts, just as others have done

Twenty-six states – more than half the union – oppose Obama’s executive action, and they brought the lawsuit, led by Texas.

It should be noted at the outset that these state officials are cowards who want the federal government to keep deporting illegal immigrants, because it’s easier politically than going after employers, which would put at risk what they really care about: campaign contributions.

In his ruling temporarily blocking Obama’s executive action, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen agreed with the plaintiffs that it would result in “direct damages” to the states. Clinging to a technicality, Hanen ruled that the administration had not complied with the Administrative Procedure Act, which calls for the White House to give more notice before taking action.

The Obama administration said in a statement that the president was “well within his legal authority” to set enforcement priorities, and that the Justice Department would appeal the ruling.

This isn’t the end or even – as Winston Churchill once said – “the end of the beginning.” So conservatives shouldn’t gloat. This is just a minor setback, since the judge didn’t squarely take on the central point – whether the president has the power to do what he did, regardless of the manner and time frame in which he did it. In fact, Hanen skirted that question by insisting that Obama’s action goes beyond prosecutorial discretion by “bestowing multiple and otherwise unobtainable benefits” on those illegal immigrants who are temporarily spared deportation.

The issue is likely to be settled by the Supreme Court, which has previously expanded executive power.

Meanwhile, Republicans talk in circles. Many of the “benefits” they complain about – such as driver’s licenses – come not from the federal government but from states, and often not from a federal mandate but at the sole discretion of the states. That’s half the states’ argument – that they bear the burden for providing benefits. The other half is that the federal government overreached by giving these benefits. Which is it?

The farce isn’t limited to Washington. It extends to the states. The immigration debate may be a circus. But it’s a traveling circus.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

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