Given the repeated failure of this Congress and preceding ones to deal with immigration reform, the only questions now are when and how far President Obama will go in using his discretionary authority to fix the problem on his own.
We hope it’s soon and that he does everything he can within the law to provide a strong measure of relief to immigrant communities in Florida and throughout the nation. They’ve waited patiently and for too long for the president to act.
There was a time when Mr. Obama’s failure to use executive authority seemed justified, despite strong public support for reform. That was when there was a glimmer of hope that members of Congress would fill the vacuum by finding a legislative solution. But that hope died after the House refused to consider S.744, which the Senate passed nearly five months ago in a bipartisan vote of 68-32.
It wasn’t because there was no support for the bill in the House. The votes for passage were there, but Speaker John Boehner would have had to rely on Democrats and a few Republican moderates in order to win approval, an action he refused to take for purely political reasons.
Nor was it because the bill lacked immigration enforcement provisions. It addressed border security, which Republicans say should be a priority, by nearly doubling the number of Border Patrol agents and adding an additional 700 miles of border fence, along with watch towers, drones, and security cameras. This would have to be accomplished before any undocumented immigrants could get green cards, the bill said. In any case, the documents would not be offered to qualifying immigrants for at least 10 years after the effective date of the law.
The issue was never the lack of votes in Congress, nor the security provisions, but rather the unwillingness of members of Mr. Boehner’s caucus to hand Mr. Obama what they considered a political victory. Doing the right thing took a back seat to politics.
That has left Mr. Obama, finally, with no choice except to act on his own. He certainly has plenty of precedent to rely on, much of which would be familiar to residents of South Florida.
In 1987, for example, Attorney Gen. Edwin Meese stayed the deportation of 200,000 Nicaraguans in the United States without authorization, and three years later the first President Bush provided protection for 190,000 Salvadorans fleeing the extreme violence in their country. In 1997, Congress passed a law allowing those affected to become permanent residents.
Haitians, Cubans, Chinese, South Vietnamese et al — the list of immigrant groups that have been allowed to remain in this country through executive action over the years goes on and on. Presidents have wide latitude on immigration matters and have exercised it often. Why should Mr. Obama do otherwise?
Mr. Boehner and other Republicans have not been shy about threatening the president if he decides to go ahead, saying any relaxation of immigration rules would “poison the atmosphere” in Washington. Really? At this stage — after years of demonizing the president, blocking his agenda, voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act some 50 times, and so on — now they’re saying No More Mr. Nice Guy?
Mr. Obama would be wise to ignore the posturing by his adversaries on The Hill. They’ve been in “No” mode for so long they apparently don’t know how else to behave. If they’re serious about wanting to pass a bill to supersede his executive action, they have the votes to do it whenever they’re ready.