“Our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it.”
On Thursday, President Barack Obama unveiled executive action that could offer protection for about 4 million from deportation in the United States. Under the plan, those eligible would be required to register themselves with the government, undergo a federal background check and begin paying taxes in exchange for a protected status from deportation for up to three years.
In the absence of any attempt at immigration reform from congressional leaders, Obama’s move to lift the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants is a positive step towards addressing the nation’s dire need for comprehensive immigration reform.
Under the executive action, undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have resided in the country for at least five years would be offered legal reprieve, lifting the threat of deportation and giving them access to work permits. The action would also expand the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which permits young immigrants under the age of 30 who arrived to the U.S. as children to apply for deportation deferral.
The President’s executive action garnered expected criticism from many of his Republican colleagues, who decried his decision as an unjustifiable use of executive authority. House Speaker John Boehner tweeted that the President was acting like an emperor by imposing the new order. Others, such as incoming majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, blasted the President’s actions, threatening, “If President Obama acts in defiance of the people and imposes his will on the country, Congress will act.”
Little did Sen. McConnell know that that’s exactly what the President wants him to do. “And 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,” Obama said in Thursday’s address. “Pass a bill.”
Those critiquing the new executive action because they think such matters should be legislated by our representatives and not the president should be addressing the real culprit — Congress itself. The fact of the matter is that Congress had the opportunity to address immigration reform when bipartisan legislation was passed by the Senate last year. The bill stopped with the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, which refused to act. Perhaps now that the party has both the House and the Senate under its control, it finally can.
Congressional leaders should do more than cry executive overstep to address the issue of immigration reform — an argument that really has no legal merit considering several of Obama’s predecessors, including President George H.W. Bush, have taken similar actions with regard to immigration policy in the past. Rather than blast the President’s decisive action, the best course of action for the Republican Party would be to demonstrate that they themselves are capable of passing comprehensive immigration reform that could actually be signed into law.
With a new GOP-controlled Congress coming in, the ball is ultimately in their court. The opportunity for congressional leaders to address the nation’s immigration issue under a unified Congress is approaching — it’d be a shame if they wasted it.
Yasmeen Serhan is a junior majoring in international relations. She is also the special projects editor of the Daily Trojan. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Tuesdays.