President Obama announced on Monday what many have been speculating for some time now: there will be no House vote on immigration this year, meaning Obama will now take executive action to “fix” the immigration system.
The president has also requested $2 billion from Congress in emergency funds to deal with the escalating immigration crisis on the southwest border. It will allow the administration to accelerate the deportation process for more than 50,000 unaccompanied children that have been apprehended at the border since last October.
If Congress, who is on holiday recess until July 7, passes this proposal, it will mark the only consensus reached on immigration policy this year. “It’s pretty sad if the one thing they pass this year is deporting a bunch of kids—not just deporting, but permanently rolling back due process,” said Michelle Brane, Director of Migrant Rights and Justice at the Immigration Advocacy Group Women’s Refugee Commission.
Brane is completely right in criticizing the stalemate on immigration that has plagued Congress, specifically the Republican-controlled House.
In contrast, at this time last year, the Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill, known as S.7444. The bill would allow the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to apply for ‘registered provisional immigrant status,’ provided they met certain requirements. With this legal status, illegal immigrants would be able to work and travel in the U.S. but would not be eligible for federal benefits.
However, the most contentious provision on the Senate bill was that it provided a ‘pathway to citizenship,’ to undocumented immigrants, who would be eligible for a green card after 10 years in provisional status.
The House has expressed strong opposition to this point in their Standards for Immigration Reform, which was issued in January of this year. The document states that although House leaders remain open to illegal immigrants legally living and working in the U.S., they oppose the green card measure because it would be “unfair to those immigrants who have played by the rules and harmful to promoting the rule of law.” This last point makes sense, from a moral and legal standpoint. However, the two-page list of broad principles fails to suggest practical alternatives to the Senate bill or improve on any of its provisions.
Instead, politics has emerged as the underlying force in both parties’ immigration rhetoric and has increasingly shaped the policy debate.
On one side, there’s House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio and other Republican legislators vocalizing their opposition to the Senate bill or criticizing the administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for spreading false hope of amnesty and inducing the border crisis.
The DACA program effectively allowed more than 500,000 undocumented immigrants, who arrived in the U.S. as children, avoid deportation. Although misinterpretation of that program and what it entails for children could be partially responsible for the border crisis, there are other factors at play, such as the dangerous and violent conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Interestingly, the current administration created DACA in June 2012, right before election time—a clear attempt to appeal to Hispanic Americans, who represent the largest minority in the country.
And now, Obama is taking advantage of the House’s failure to pass a bill to rally up his voter base and boost his party’s image. His announcement on Monday vilified House-Republicans and their failure to reach agreement on immigration reform. “The failure of House Republicans to pass a darn bill is bad for our security, is bad for our economy, is bad for our future,” the President said. “If Congress won’t do their job, at least we can do ours.”
Boehner and other House-Republicans are retaliating with their own comments, citing mistrust in Obama and his administration as the reason for reform failure thus far.
“In our conversation last week, I told the president what I have been telling him for months now: The American people and their elected officials don’t trust him to enforce the law as written,” said Boehner in a statement after Obama’s speech on Monday.These accusatory remarks come four months before midterm election season, when House Republicans hope to secure a majority in the Senate.
It’s time for both Democrats and Republicans to put political games aside and focus on the problem at hand. There is potential for consensus on reform, as both parties agree on other key immigration provisions, such as tighter security measures at the border and raising the cap for high-skilled worker visas. Now they must use the Senate bill as a blueprint to find common ground on the ‘pathway to citizenship’ provision, either by extending the wait period for a green card, adding additional eligibility requirements, or removing it altogether.
Engaging in partisan speeches and attacking the other side will not solve the border crisis and only damages their credibility as leaders. Only time will tell if Obama’s latest executive order will solve the border crisis, or at least improve the situation.