Finally, President Obama is playing offense on immigration reform -- and it will pay dividends to both the country and his own political standing. Republicans who thought Obama would be a rug they could stomp on to 2016 are now on defense.
In spite of the hysterical cries from the GOP, the White House has made it clear that Obama will take consequential action to break the Republican-controlled House of Representatives' chokehold on immigration reform. The president will issue executive orders that will protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Much has been discussed of the supposedly dire consequences of such moves -- the end of ephemeral bipartisanship opportunities, a supposed general "poisoning of the waters," even the need to impeach the president -- yet little has been said of the positive outcomes.
The Tea Party-infused Republican majority, to begin with, will have been dealt a serious defeat -- a boon to all Americans, not just Democrats. Tea Party extremism -- for example, the bizarre threat last year to the full faith and credit of the United States in trying to block a raise of the debt ceiling; and the shutdown of the government, ostensibly to achieve the impossible goal of destroying the Affordable Care Act through such an action -- has been responsible for a slew of national self-inflicted wounds to all Americans. Such anarchistic actions had the effect of crashing consumer and business confidence at a time when the economy was gathering steam.
Obama's immigration actions will isolate the extremists. As that faction will propose ever-escalating responses to executive action, the GOP leadership will be faced with the unpalatable choice between surrendering to the far right -- and with that capitulation abandoning any hope of positioning the party as a serious, governing party for 2016 -- or acquiescing to Obama and alienating the GOP primary electorate, just as the 2016 horse race gets started.
Another outcome of the president's immigration executive actions will be an economic stimulus. The Congressional Budget Office and several studies have projected significant gains to the American economy from legalization of immigrants. Dr. Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and the author of "The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform," published in the Cato Journal, projects an incremental $1.5 trillion boost to the economy resulting from the legalization of undocumented immigrants.
Considering that the Republican Party is still pushing for a European-style federal budget of austerity, which has proven nothing short of a disaster for the European Union, we are going to need all the stimulus we can get to keep positive economic momentum, thereby growing our gross domestic product and continuing to drive down unemployment.
Finally, there is a social benefit that will pay dividends for many years. An unfortunate outcome of the Republican opposition to comprehensive immigration reform has been a slide by some Tea Party Republicans into reprehensible, clearly racist rhetoric that has besmirched every American Latino in the country.
In the last few weeks of the midterm elections, for example, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) accused immigrants of being both Ebola carriers and sleeper cells for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), entering the U.S. to behead Americans. Similar racialist rhetoric has been used by a variety of GOP figures and conservative commentators in recent years. There has been little or no pushback from the Republican mainstream for such denigrating speech from their most extreme members.
The president's immigration order will begin to normalize the status of immigrants, peeling away the animus and onus of the "illegal" label plastered on the whole Latino community by these kinds of attacks.
The rapid integration of currently undocumented immigrants into the American melting pot will restore comity and respect to the national discourse, rejecting once again that strain of American politics whose heart is still beating in Jim Crow.
President Obama's executive orders on immigration will, of course, cause a ruckus. But we need such a tumult to refocus the country on the real problems facing America. A shaky public education system, antiquated infrastructure and an inefficient and unfair tax code come to mind as issues with transcendent importance for the viability of America as the world's preeminent power.
Let's deal with immigration this year -- and get back to work on making America even stronger.