Immigration Reform Continues To Be A Political Football

Immigration Reform Continues To Be A Political Football

There’s been a lot of political maneuvering around the issue of immigration reform, with the latest play, of course, being President Obama using his executive power to protect around 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation. In the aftermath of Obama’s move, controversy has raged regarding the rule of law, and whether the executive branch can legislate just because Congress either elects not to act or passes legislation the president doesn’t agree with.

It’s a debate worth having and, in the long run, it’s more important than the policy because 5 million illegal immigrants weren’t going to be deported anyway. The problem is that real reform isn’t an issue that either party has been serious about. Obama’s move is all about positioning for the next election, and he showed once again that despite his failures in foreign policy, the economy and health care, he is brilliant politician. 

Obama’s executive order will do little to address illegal immigration, but it virtually ensures that any cooperation between the executive branch and a newly elected Congress won’t happen. In one simple act, the president once again removed the government from a governance role to a purely political beast. Obama might feel most comfortable in this role, but it does little for the country. 

Eventually it has to happen

Of course, real comprehensive immigration reform will have to be addressed eventually, and there is bipartisan agreement on several points:

• Deporting 11 million illegal immigrants isn’t going to happen,

• Securing our porous border is vitally important,

• Reforms are needed to improve and increase legal immigration,

• The federal government must find a way to remove the incentive for immigrants to come here illegally,

• The issue won’t go away if the government continues to grant citizenship to those who defy our laws,

• Something must be done regarding the 11-12 million illegal immigrants already in our country.

The two sides of the political aisle agree on all of this to varying degrees, and there is even little disagreement about how to go about it. So why hasn’t it happened? Because they don’t agree on the timing.

The right only wants to provide a pathway for citizenship to those who have broken the immigration laws after the border has been secured so as not to continue to encourage illegal immigration. The left wants to first provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegals in the country, and it has a less stringent meaning of what “securing the border” means.

Sadly, however, it is more than just timing and prioritization of implementation that needs to be worked out; there are also the political ramifications. What’s ironic about the politics of the situation is that both the right and the left benefit from not doing anything and keeping the issue alive. Or as President Obama did, enact some minor short-term change to curry political advantage. 

Almost every demographic in the U.S. falls heavily into the arms of one political party or the other. Go to any meeting of environmental activists or organized labor, and the attendees will overwhelmingly tend to vote with the Democrats. Meanwhile, a group of entrepreneurs and small business owners will resoundingly vote Republican. The groups don’t have to be that narrowly defined, either. White men are overwhelmingly Republican, while black Americans almost universally vote Democrat.

The two broad-based groups considered to be in play, or that are growing rapidly thus are critical to electoral success in the future, are women and Hispanics. The trend lines for those groups is decidedly toward the Democrat Party, but both sides of the aisle believe the trends aren’t as engrained as in other groups. Thus, they hold the key to future elections.

President Barack Obama announces executive actions on U.S. immigration policy during a nationally televised address from the White House, November 20, 2014. Credit: Pool / Pool / Getty Images

That’s the reason Democrats went with the failed “war on women” theme in the midterm elections and that’s why political positioning is so important in the immigration debate. White men, African Americans, entrepreneurs, union members, and all of the “one-issue groups” out there are not irrelevant, but they’re considered to be comfortably aligned with one party or the other.

Women and Hispanics will decide future elections, and Obama is gambling that his executive order will help ensure a Democrat victory in 2016 and beyond. He outmaneuvered and gained tremendous political advantage with the move. Of course, he loses that advantage if Congress actually acts and creates comprehensive immigration reform and delivers it to Obama’s desk to sign.

Obama, on the other hand, believes Congress won’t act. As he seems to make few miscalculations when it comes to campaign strategies, I wouldn’t bet against him. However, with the need for real immigration reform being substantial, who’s to say that Republicans can’t still trump Obama’s hand. Both sides agree on what needs to be done; they just have to conclude that it’s in their best political interest to set politics aside and do what is right.  

The current debate regarding the executive order revolves around two issues. Is Obama’s executive order simply an exercise of prosecutorial discretion? Or is it a blatant attempt to ignore the laws as passed by Congress, and a consolidation of not only executive but legislative authority under the presidency?

Prosecutorial discretion is nothing new. Prosecutors don’t prosecute every crime; they prioritize and prosecute the cases they feel do society the most good. While the Justice Department might elect to only after go after big-time drug dealers and ignore dealers on street corners, it doesn’t mean dealing drugs on the corner is legal.

Uncharted territory

Still, this is uncharted territory, and that is why both sides of the aisle in Congress have such serious concerns about this executive action. They see Obama’s action as rewarding lawbreakers; they don’t see it as an issue of focusing resources, but vacating a law written by the legislative branch.

President Obama is gambling that Congress won’t fight for its constitutional power because the political consequences of doing so could be too damaging at the ballot box. While Obama has the power to decide which laws to enforce and who to prosecute, Congress should be the entity with the power to repeal laws and confer positive legal benefits on non-Americans, which they see Obama as doing with his executive order.

It’s an amazing political gambit – can a president ignore his constitutional duty if he cloaks it an appealing way designed to deliver compassion?  It was sheer political genius that one of his main arguments has been couching it as “I’m doing this so Congress will act.” It a case of the ends justifying the means, but it’s nothing less than a direct challenge to our constitutional system.

Congress must act on immigration because it is a broken system. Congress also must address the president’s usurpation of Congressional power. Our founding fathers were correct in setting up a system of checks and balances and saw the inherent danger of an executive branch that continued to grow in power to the point of creating a king. 

Anything less than an aggressive two-pronged approach by Congress will result in a disappointing result. While Republicans won the last election, they will only truly win if they act to address health care, immigration, enact a pro-growth economic package and offer a coherent foreign policy plan. Short of that, their victory will be short lived. They don’t need Obama to sign such measures into law or enact them; they merely have to demonstrate their plan and their ability to govern.

The opinions of Troy Marshall are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com and the Penton Agriculture Group.

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