Last November, Obama exercised executive action to create substantial changes to the immigration system and enforcement, extending protection from deportation to over four million undocumented immigrants, expanding legal immigration of skilled workers, and providing temporary deportation relief to immigrants meeting certain criteria.
While the Obama Administration and other Democrats are attempting to give undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship, beginning with deferred action, ultimately, only Congress can decide who should qualify for legal status.
Congressional Republicans set the stage for a massive showdown over the President’s immigration action last December. When striking a deal to authorize federal spending, Congress extended the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) funding through March of 2015, despite extending funding for most other departments through September of 2015. By cutting off the DHS’ funding in March, it provided Republicans with the opportunity to use the nation’s border and homeland security as a political tool to prevent the implementation of the President’s executive actions on immigration.
Ultimately, the Republican-controlled Congress sent legislation to Obama funding DHS without the immigration-related concessions they had demanded, avoiding the potential, partial shutdown of DHS. This decision was, in part, due to the Homeland Security Department’s anti-terrorism responsibilities. It would be hypocritical of the Republican party to support the fight against terrorism abroad, while not funding our homeland security efforts just to make a political point.
At the same time, presidential hopefuls aren’t offering many ideas, choosing to focus on enforcement and border security rather than real reform. At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the general consensus among candidates, often contradicting past views, was that an enforcement-first approach must be taken on immigration policy: no comprehensive reform makes sense without first securing the border. Yet none have defined what a secure border looks like.
Most Americans understand the importance of an improved immigration system, and our economy only benefits from creating employment opportunities for highly skilled immigrants and other immigrant workers. Sadly, Congress lags far behind public opinion in the importance of moving forward on immigration reform.