When President Obama announced his unilateral version of immigration reform last week, he had several goals. The most obvious goal was to divide and demoralize the Republican Party in the wake of its overwhelming victory in the midterm elections. Just as important and ambitious, Obama hoped to strike a stake through the heart of a burgeoning movement among minorities to vote for Republicans.
The effect of Obama’s first goal is plain to see. Republicans are angry, but split over how to respond to Obama’s amnesty. Some conservatives are calling for a repeat of the disastrous government shutdowns of the past while others are once again calling for the president’s impeachment. The Republican leadership will have a difficult time reigning in the various factions of the party and presenting a coordinated and effective response.
President Obama’s second goal is an attempt to shore up minority voting blocs, in particular Hispanics, which have traditionally supported Democrats. More than a third of Hispanic voters cast their ballots for Republicans according to an Examiner analysis of exit polls from the 2014 midterms. In an era where the country is evenly divided, such a defection makes it almost impossible for Democrats to win. The president hopes that the Latinos will be sufficiently grateful for the amnesty to vote Democrat in the future. An over-the-top Republican reaction that could be portrayed as racist would also benefit future Democratic candidates as well as put Republicans on the defensive before the new Congress is even seated.
The Republican response to the president’s gambit should be in two phases. First, the Republicans should take a strong, principled stand against Obama’s executive action and explain to the country why his action is unconstitutional. Second, rather than just saying no, Republicans must present the country with a viable alternative.
The first phase, Republican resistance, should point out that the president does not have the authority to legislate his own immigration laws. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is already doing this by publicizing the 22 times that President Obama denied that he had the authority take unilateral action on immigration.
A Fact Check analysis of polls, points out that most Americans support immigration reform, but oppose the president’s unilateral version of it. Unfortunately, during the current lame duck session of Congress in which Democrats still hold a Senate majority, there is little that they can do to resist. With another funding crisis for the federal government looming in December, President Obama’s obvious and transparent plan is to goad Republicans into a repeat of last year’s disastrous government shutdown. Rather than walking into the president’s trap, the GOP should wait until January when they will have the upper hand.
When the Republicans take control of the Senate in January, there will be many more tools at their disposal to combat President Obama’s executive overreach. First and most obvious, Republicans will control the budgeting process. The Republican House can pass a budget that does not fund the president’s amnesty programs, but which keeps other parts of the federal government operating. This would put President Obama in the position of having to veto the budget and risk a government shutdown or accepting a defeat. While the 2013 shutdown was blamed on Republicans, the blame in this case would rest solely with the president, who would also be defending an unpopular position.
Second, the Republicans could refuse to confirm any of President Obama’s appointees until the president backs down. Unlike a government shutdown, few Americans would feel any effects of a halt to Senate confirmations. There would be no stories of closed parks, halts to government checks, or layoffs of federal employees. The Obama Administration itself would bear the brunt of the confirmation boycott.
Third, the GOP can file another lawsuit against President Obama. The Constitution gives Congress the power to make laws while the president is tasked with enforcing the laws Congress passes. While the president does have some limited discretion in enforcing laws, he does not have the authority to “adopt a general policy that is so extreme as to amount to an abdication of its statutory responsibilities” according to a Justice Department memo cited by The Volokh Conspiracy. Congress could sue to have the president enforce the laws as they are written. The downside to this strategy is that unless the Supreme Court agrees to expedited handling of the case, President Obama might be out of office before it is resolved.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Republicans have to come up with an alternative to the president’s action. There is an old saying that the best revenge is living well, but, in this case, the best revenge may be passing a conservative immigration reform bill. This is especially true if the bill can garner enough Democratic support to override an Obama veto.
A majority of Americans realize that the current immigration system is broken and in need of overhaul. In addition to unprotected borders, there is no system to track immigrants or visitors who enter the country but overstay visas. There is also no reliable way for employers to verify immigration status of their employees, even though Pew Research estimates that more than five percent of American workers are illegal immigrants. The legal process can take decades for immigrants who follow the law. Highly skilled workers who could benefit the U.S. economy are turned away to work for foreign competitors while unskilled laborers stream across the border.
It will not be enough to simply roll back President Obama’s executive action. The immigration problem and Democratic attempts to use it to divide the country will persist until there is meaningful reform. The Republicans must put forth a reform of their own to fill the vacuum. In addition to the border security measures favored by conservatives, reform must include a fair method of dealing with the millions of illegal immigrants already in the country. Most polls indicate that a majority of Americans favor a path to legality, although not necessarily a path to citizenship or amnesty.
A major problem for Republican leaders is convincing the anti-immigration members of their own party to support reform ideas that are popular with the rest of the country. The far-right members of the GOP scuttled immigration reform under President Bush and last year under President Obama. In so doing, they set the stage for the president’s unilateral amnesty. To these Republicans, any immigration reform is seen as amnesty and any Republican advocates for such reforms are denounced as RINOs. Republican leaders will have to work with leaders of the anti-reform caucus, notably Ted Cruz, in order to pass such a bill. President Obama is undoubtedly counting on such opposition from the right to put the Republicans between a rock and a hard place.
To pacify the right, immigration reform should definitely include strong border security provisions, but it must address the other problems with the current system as well. The carrot for illegals should be a tough but fair way of handling those already in the country if they come out of the shadows. The stick would be strong workplace enforcement and stiffer penalties for future illegal aliens. The legal immigration system should be streamlined to encourage prospective Americans to follow the law.
President Obama’s executive strategy is a desperate attempt to divide Republicans while raising the morale of the Democratic base after a humiliating defeat. If Republicans can wait until January and rein in their anti-immigration reform faction, they have a good chance of beating the president at his own game. The stakes are high. President Obama’s actions are an unprecedented attempt to circumvent Congress and the democratic progress that do not bode well for the future of the United States if left unchecked.