The largest minority group in the nation, Hispanics, could help rescue Barack Obama's floundering presidency. But for that to happen, the President needs to take significant action soon on immigration reform rather than wait for a "do nothing" Congress.
Comprehensive immigration reform this year, and we assume in this legislative session, is dead thanks to the right wing fanatics who forced a closure of our government and consider compromise treason because they don't actually want to govern.
We find it bizarre, and completely counter-intuitive, that the Republican controlled House of Representatives will not even take a vote on the immigration bill passed this past summer by the U.S. Senate. By doing nothing, they earn the enmity of the Hispanic community. At best conservative Hispanics remain distrustful of Republican reasoning and motives.
We believe the time has come for the President to take bold action. If Congress won't act then President Obama must. He should sign an executive order allowing undocumented persons without a criminal record to stay in the country and obtain work authorization.
This step would follow the administration's recent policy memorandum that ended the deportation of U.S. military members' families and the president's executive order halting the deportation of minors with no criminal records. That executive order or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals -- as it is called -- is smart, sensible policy, and the president should widen this initiative to all non-criminals who submit appropriate paperwork and pay an agreed-upon fine.
By taking this decisive step, the president would acknowledge that an intensely partisan Republican House of Representatives is incapable of producing proactive legislation that would help the millions of undocumented people in America. Such a move would cement Obama's legacy with Hispanics and also help the economy by pulling these hard working people out of the shadows so they can more fully be engaged in all aspect of society, including paying all local and federal taxes.
Should the Republicans take control of the White House in 2016, the new president will be reluctant, we believe, to begin mass deportations on the scale we've seen over the past three or four years. These deportations--1,100 per day right now--are dividing families, creating anger in immigrant communities and are contrary to the ethos and history of our nation.
Thus, the president needs a fresh, vigorous game plan: First, he should lead by pulling back from the enforcement-only policies pursued up to this point in his five years as president. Walls, drones, border patrol agents and electronic fences can never completely control a 2,000 mile, meandering frontier with our southern neighbor.
Actual criminals here without documentation should be incarcerated or deported; the vast majority of people living here without proper documentation have no criminal record. They reflect a broken immigration system rather than a faulty character. Besides, it's important to note that approximately 40 percent of all people living in the U.S. without proper documentation have overstayed a tourist, student or other visa.
People who are here without documentation are not criminals: They have committed a civil infraction, not a criminal (assault, robbery, kidnapping, homicide, etc.) infraction. President Obama, a former professor of constitutional law, should understand this is an important legal distinction, not just a semantic one. He needs to start explaining it to the American public.
The President has an opportunity to show decisive leadership, fortify a crucial alliance with Hispanic/Latino Americans and energize his presidency--a trifecta for the president, and the nation.