11/21/2014 10:48 am ET Updated Jan 21, 2015

Bold Steps Toward a Better America


Last night, President Obama took a bold step worthy of a great president and invited 5 million immigrants to "come out of the shadows." Hopefully, once the new Congress is sworn in, he'll be equally courageous in vetoing the bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. GOP and right-wing media conniptions notwithstanding, both actions are meaningful steps toward sustaining our economic leadership for the next decade and beyond.

Just for giggles, let's get this out of the way first. An executive action by the Chief Executive of the United States is not illegal, it's part of his job description. Just as his predecessors have, many of them much more frequently than Obama, President Obama issues executive orders to get things done. His actions aren't illegal or unconstitutional just because he's black. If anything, Obama -- a Harvard-educated constitutional lawyer himself, would go the extra mile to make sure every action he takes is fully constitutional, because he knows that the GOP majority in the house and senate are foaming at the mouth to impeach the nation's first minority President.

The productive discussion is how action on immigration -- including amnesty for some of those already here -- moves us forward as a country. Illegal immigration is a problem that exists on two fronts: border control to slow the influx and what to do about those already ensconced in American society. The right wing wants to pretend the second problem doesn't exist. But it does.

Millions of undocumented immigrants who are already here subsist in purgatory as second-class citizens, contributing to US society while living in constant fear of being deported. They buy products and services, yet are often victims of predatory lending practices and shady vendors who exploit their illegal status. They can cook our food and raise our kids, but not open a bank account. They can build our houses, but not get a contractor's license.

Providing those immigrants a way to pay their fair share and earn their own thin slice of the American dream was the only thing that could be done. It isn't just a moral imperative; it makes sound economic sense as well. That is why it is so strongly favored by the very pro-business and typically conservative US Chamber of Commerce. Millions of new taxpayers. Millions of new customers. Thousands of new businesses. More than any country in the world, we know the promise of hard-working immigrants coming to our shores. So let's celebrate the unshackling of nearly 5 million hard-working people, now able to thrive to their fullest potential. It's an economic shot in the arm our country sorely needs.

By the same measures, the much-ballyhooed Keystone XL pipeline is neither an economic stimulus nor a path forward for America. Rather, Keystone XL is a conduit to the past -- a burdensome dependence on foreign oil that quite literally slices our country in half. Keystone would create less than 40 permanent jobs to bring tar sands to our shores. The GOP's motives in pushing Keystone XL are nothing more than their allegiance to big oil and their desire to position President Obama as anti-jobs. President Obama's track record on economic progress is well-documented, while the GOP has passed exactly zero job creation bills since they took control of the House.

Ironically, President Obama's lasting legacy is likely not Obamacare, but rather the 2009 stimulus package that jump-started the US solar energy industry. The much-maligned loan program that the GOP obsessed over until Benghazi came along will actually turn a multi-billion dollar profit and US jobs in solar energy are growing 10 times faster than the national average employment growth. In fact, solar energy creates more jobs every day that Keystone XL will in total, ever. It is that kind of forward-looking commitment to leadership through innovation that will keep America's economy on top, and hopefully save the planet to boot.

America is at a crossroads. Strong, principled leaders making tough choices is how we'll stay on course to a brighter future for all Americans. Denial, dogma and allegiance to the old is not only how we'll fall behind, but it is, as the president said last night, "contrary to our character."