That didn't take long. No sooner had President Barack Obama announced his decision to suspend deportations of peaceful DREAMers than Republicans responded with calls for his impeachment. The president acted within his executive and prosecutorial discretion and the Republicans know it. But they have to admit that to their fervent followers. Will they choose to DREAM or impeach?
The Obama administration announcement itself is a courageous and common sense move toward immigration reform. For years there has been bipartisan consensus that children of illegal immigrants who have come here through no fault of their own, worked hard and played by the rules deserve a fair shot at education or military service. Today the president acted as chief executive law enforcement officer to prioritize deportations by putting violent criminals first and otherwise law-abiding children last -- a decision well within Barack Obama's executive and prosecutorial discretion. As a former sex assault and child abuse prosecutor, I want the violent criminals especially those who kill, rape or assault children deported first, and believe most Americans would agree with that law enforcement priority. Deciding to allow temporary status for immigrants is also within the president's discretion and happens on a case-by-case basis in every jurisdiction. What changed today was the sweeping scope of those decisions.
Of course there can be disagreement on the policy -- but that doesn't make the policy illegal. However, well before the president spoke in the Rose Garden, the backlash began. I was on radio with Geraldo Rivera defending President Obama to a caller wanting to impeach him for helping DREAMAct kids. OK, I thought, maybe this is a one-off. But I took to Twitter and a simple search revealed that a vast number of self-identified Republicans, Tea Party activists, and/or Romney supporters were calling for impeachment. Not Congressional action to undo the decision or to pass their own version of immigration reform -- but Congressional action to impeach the President of the United States for refusing to deport the noncitizen children of illegal immigrants.
The blogoshpere was replete with calls for impeachment over President Obama's "illegal" action. Then one by one GOP lawmakers and Romney supporters came out with statements calling the president's decision "illegal" -- a dogwhistle to the impeachment crowd. Whether this immigration reaction was as coordinated as the Republicans' "defeat all things Obama" inauguration night dinner plot or merely coincidence we don't yet know, but what we do know is that this fight comes down to what makes a person an American.
One self-described "conservative tea party anti-establishment gun nut" tweeted me this: "If you're here illegally, you aren't an American, got that?" Actually, I don't get that. I agree with President Obama who said "these are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they're friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper. They were brought to this country by their parents, sometimes even as infants and often have no idea that they're undocumented until they apply for a job or a driver's license or a college scholarship."
The president provided a clear choice -- he is with the DREAmers. I'm not sure where Mitt Romney stands or how many positions he will take on. In this campaign he supported "self-deportation" during the debates and had two positions today -- his advisors saying the president's move was "illegal" (that dog whistle word again) and then the governor's own written Marco Rubio-esque statement acknowledgement that something must be done but this prevents Congress from passing a law to do it. (Actually, it doesn't, because Congress could bring up the DREAM Act on Monday). Letting DREAMers stay -- under Rubio's plan or Obama's is the opposite of self-deportation, so it will be interesting to see whether the conservative media that heckled the president for keeping his word will do to Romney for breaking his word.
The same Romney supporters who oppose the DREAMers, who want to amend the 14th amendment to take out "so-called "anchor babies" are now urging impeachment -- not mere electoral defeat -- of the president. This is another step down the road of illegitimacy from the birthers who claimed he should not be elected, to the heckler who thought he shouldn't be able to speak in his own White House, to the impeachers who don't want to wait for an election to resolve their differences with President Obama. This devolution is a danger to immigrants who should not be scapegoated for American's economic challenges. We need to be creating jobs and ladders of opportunity for all Americans, not dividing by race or national origin. We need to connect with millions of Americans who support helping kids who are here illegally through no fault of their own get a chance to work hard play by the rules and get a fair shot. We must stand up for the president against the calls for his impeachment and urge the press to ask Romney whether he agrees with his supporters that the president committed an impeachable offense or whether he disagrees.
What do you believe? Whose side are you on? It is time to take a stand, as the president did today, about who is an American. It is time to choose: DREAM or impeach?
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