Republicans are apoplectic about the possibility of President Barack Obama issuing an executive order on immigration, and understandably so. Their ability to stop him – and get much of what they want – rests right under their noses.
On June 27, 2013, Senate Republicans and Democrats came together in a rare moment of bipartisanship to pass much-needed comprehensive immigration reform. That legislation has been sitting in the House ever since.
Speaker John Boehner and the House could block Obama’s planned maneuver by simply voting on the bill. It would almost certainly pass in bipartisan fashion.
So why doesn’t Boehner do it? Because the far right of his party would turn on him if he did. Most observers believe there are enough votes in the House – most or all Democrats along with some number of moderate Republicans – to pass the bill. The Republicans opposed to it, though, are the ones in Boehner’s ear.
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The irony is that Republicans get much more of what they want from that bill than they would from an Obama executive order. Obama is believed to be considering a declaration that his administration would not target some 6 million illegal immigrants for deportation.
The Senate-passed bill, on the other hand, is much tougher. Crafted in part by Florida Republican Marco Rubio, it adds 700 miles of fence along the Mexican border, more than doubles the number of Border Patrol agents and spends millions of dollars on high-tech equipment and other enforcement measures.
While that is being put in place, illegal immigrants would begin a 13-year-long process toward getting green cards and eventual citizenship. They would have to pass a background check, show they had not been convicted of a serious crime, pay back taxes and a $500 fine. Later they would have to show that they had been regularly employed, were proficient in English and pay an additional $1,000 fine.
That’s a lot. What would opponents do instead, round up 11 million people and deport them?
When the Senate bill passed, Boehner said the House wouldn’t take it up. “We’re going to do our own bill,” he said.
But they didn’t, and now Obama is poised to take the politically poisonous step of going around Congress. Besides cementing gridlock for the next two years, that would set a bad precedent for future presidents. Obama’s move would not be illegal, as some claim, but it would be disrespectful of America’s system of checks and balances and would further polarize the nation.
At the same time, opponents’ suggestion that he give Congress a chance to fix the immigration system is laughable. Congress has had that chance for years but hasn’t budged.
So here we are with an overreaching president and an intransigent Congress. What to do?
Simple: Vote on the bill.