President Obama makes his move on immigration,
dares GOP: 'Pass a Bill!'
By Jon Melegrito
Letter from Washington
It's the evening of November 20, 2014---and a group of friends are gathered around a TV set to watch President Obama make his much-anticipated announcement that would give immigration relief to nearly five million undocumented immigrants.
The President is forceful and emphatic as he provides details: Millions of unauthorized workers could "come out of the shadows." About four million, who are parents of U.S. citizens, will be eligible for a new legal status that would defer their deportations. They must pass background checks and pay taxes, but will receive Social Security cards that will allow them to work legally.
After his 15-minute speech, there's a feeling of relief and satisfaction. I am glad Obama has chosen to confront his critics, rather than cave in. Sometimes confrontation is better than conciliation. There's such a thing as a negative concession. And Obama is basically saying to the opposition: Tama Na, Sobra Na! (Enough already!)
"The actions I'm taking are not only lawful, they're the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every Democratic president for the past half-century," Mr. Obama said. "To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill."
Obama waited for more than one year
It will be recalled that the US Senate passed a bi-partisan measure on June 27, 2013, by 68 votes. But the House under Republican leadership did not do anything, despite polls indicating a large majority of Americans supporting comprehensive immigration reform. Speaker John Boehner kept dragging his feet, posturing, grandstanding, saying he wanted to act. So the President waited, and kept waiting for more than a year. But nothing happened.
And now Boehner has the unmitigated gall to say President Obama would "poison the well" for legislative action on immigration reform by unilaterally issuing executive orders. Seriously? As Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. puts it, "how can you poison a well that has already been filled with partisan cyanide?"
Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois puts it best: "Republicans can't be for anything that Obama is for. That is the problem." Mitch McConnell, who will take over as Senate Majority Leader in January, has famously said that his mission is to see the Obama Presidency fail.
So, who's poisoning the well?
In a statement after Obama's speech, Boehner oozes yet again with pompous hypocrisy: "By ignoring the will of the American people, President Obama has cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left."
Truth be told, it's Obama who is paying close attention to the tens of millions who supported him two years ago. "But they were so dispirited that they stayed away from the polls on Nov. 4," Dionne points out. "They are hoping Obama will show them that political engagement is worth the effort."
I like to see Obama fight back. The American people are sick and tired of partisan gridlock. We are all frustrated especially with the way conservative hard-liners have blocked progressive reform time and time again.
I also admire the way Obama has framed the immigration debate, challenging Americans to take the high road. In his address, he appealed to the American people's compassion. Deporting millions of undocumented is "not who we are," he said. "We shall not oppress a stranger for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once too."
Do Good for the country
"Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law?" he asked. "Whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in."
In effect, the President's executive action provides only temporary protection from deportation to only 5 of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. Still, it's a significant step forward.
There's still a lot to be done and only Congress can fix a broken system that keeps families apart. While the petition drives and many protests had finally paid off for now, expect push backs from those who'd rather score political points with their base rather than do what's ultimately good for the country.