11/24/2014 12:52 pm ET Updated Jan 24, 2015

Ending the Immigration Insanity

Pool via Getty Images

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. For years President Obama, and President Bush before him, have been locked in an insane immigration cycle. Both genuinely wanted to shift our national trajectory on immigration and reform our immigration system to make it more humane. Both faced opposition from Republican lawmakers who sought an ever more punitive immigration system. The presidents' strategy to win over these lawmakers was to ramp up immigration enforcement to historically unprecedented levels. As a result, more people have been deported in the last decade than were deported in the entire Twentieth Century. Millions of families were torn asunder, billions of dollars were squandered lining the pockets of the private prison industry and, surprise surprise, Republican law makers remain as opposed to humane immigration policies as they were before Presidents Obama and Bush began their brutal immigration legacies. Turns out, you don't convince Republican lawmakers to be more humane on immigration by deporting immigrants hand over fist.

Now, finally, the President has taken a real step forward toward ending the immigration insanity. In order to turn the corner on the immigration issue as a nation, we need to expose the inaccurate and inflammatory themes that have dominated our immigration discourse for what they are: lies. Immigration restrictionists have effectively held back progress on immigration by inaccurately but powerfully framing the immigration issue in terms of criminality, lax border enforcement, and national security. That is the way much of the country views the immigration issue and that is why we haven't been able to move forward. In reality, the overwhelming majority of immigrants caught up in our deportation system have never been convicted of any crime. In reality, the minority who have been convicted often only land in the criminal justice system because the basic necessities of life for undocumented immigrant -- working, driving, identification -- have been increasingly criminalized. In reality, border enforcement has never been more robust in our nation's history and the rate of illegal entries is lower than it has been in decades. In reality, our vast immigration enforcement efforts have not resulted in any--not one--notable national security victory.

The President's executive action on immigration gives him the opportunity to flip the script, to expose the distortions that have allowed those inaccurate themes to warp our discourse. He can use this moment as an opportunity to reorient our national conversation on immigration toward more accurate and productive themes of family, economic vitality and national identity. Republican lawmakers and immigration restrictionists will continue the attacks. Their shrill cries will flood talk shows and their legal challenges will surely come. They may even overplay their political hand and threaten to shut down our government. But if, though it all, the President refuses to allow them to dictate the terms of the debate, if he stays on message, the dialogue will shift, the lawsuits will fail, and eventually the politics of our nation will begin to shift.

To be sure, there is more to be done. The President's actions, while important, leave many who have earned a right to membership in our nation unprotected. His plan continues to be overly reliant on detention and deportation as a way forward. But today we are taking an important step as a nation toward ending the immigration insanity.