President Barack Obama's announcement last night that he is using his executive authority to shield millions of immigrants from deportation in order to focus enforcement on dangerous and violent criminals touched off howls from Republicans before he even revealed it. But what the president is doing not only appears to be constitutional but is, if anything, overdue and in line with what most Americans support.
For good or bad, this is not amnesty nor is it comprehensive immigration reform. Rather, it is a commitment that this administration is not going to deport certain undocumented individuals, including those who have lived and worked in this country for a significant period of time without getting into trouble or perhaps came here as young children and have grown up as Americans in all but official paperwork.
This doesn't fix this country's immigration policies, which Mr. Obama and others repeatedly and correctly identify as "broken." Nor is this the best possible solution. Even the president had previously expressed doubts about going down this path and using executive authority to do what Congress has not accomplished. Mr. Obama has done his share of fence-sitting and double-speak on the issue in the past as his administration has deported more illegal immigrants than any previous one, tapping his much-maligned executive authority to do so.
But enough is enough. More than a year and a half ago, the U.S. Senate approved more sweeping immigration reform on a bipartisan vote. The compromise measure passed with endorsements from organized labor. It passed with cheers from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others in the business community. It passed with the blessings of such prominent Republican senators as John McCain, Lamar Alexander, Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham.
And what happened to that historic agreement? It has not gotten so much as a committee hearing in the House of Representatives, let alone a vote. If Republicans wanted to seize control of immigration policy, they had 500 days to do so. They did not because aside from building bigger walls and watch towers at the Mexican border or sending more guards, militia or soldiers to Texas, they have no immigration policy — at least not one that appeals to the fringe elements of the party who are already calling for impeachment, a law suit or maybe another government shutdown to defy the president.
We will not try to guess what lurks in the hearts of such people who can look at young men and women of foreign birth — the "Dreamers" as in the Dream Act who grew up watching "Sesame Street" and Cartoon Network, going to school each day, perhaps earning a high school diploma and pledging allegiance to the flag just like their classmates — as prime candidates for deportation. In a country with at least 11 million illegal immigrants this makes no sense. For a country built by immigrants, it is a tragic departure from American values.
Members of Congress still have it within their power to take up the matter of immigration reform and offer a genuine path to citizenship for productive members of society. But the Republican majority in the House won't because they have expended too much effort whipping up public fears of illegal immigrants as terrorists, criminals or even Ebola-carriers to consider a more rational response. They have turned their backs on Latinos and gotten elected and re-elected for their efforts thanks in large measure to carefully-drawn congressional districts where minorities have little-to-no political clout.
Since Republicans can't have a rational discussion about immigration reform or even apparently acknowledge that Republican presidents like Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush altered immigration enforcement policy through executive actions as well, they will now make outrageous claims that Mr. Obama has created a constitutional crisis and should face impeachment and jail time or worse. All because Mr. Obama has chosen to restore a modicum of order to the chaos of U.S. immigration practices which currently serve no one's interests.
This is not the ideal way to proceed on immigration, but it is the only practical one available to Mr. Obama. Millions of undocumented immigrants, including farmworkers and those seeking government-subsidized health insurance coverage, will see no benefit from these changes. Now it's up to Democrats in Congress to refuse any GOP effort to use the threat of another government shutdown to reverse the decision. Such a strategy of hostage-taking didn't work the last time it was attempted, and it should not be countenanced by the American people again.