OPINION

Opinion: Immigration overreach is not the answer to a permanent solution

Following the recent Republican romp in the fall elections, Ariz. Sen. John McCain was in no mood to spike the football.

Yes, he was happy that the GOP was poised to assume the Senate majority and that he would soon take over as the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, but a looming policy decision had him more concerned.

The Thursday after Election Day, Sen. McCain was reacting to rumblings that President Obama was prepared to act via executive order on immigration.

No serious Democrat or Republican can argue that our byzantine visa system, overly bureaucratic guest worker program and patchwork worker verification scheme is effective or makes any sense.

- Nelson Balido

On MSNBC, McCain said that he was “pleading with the president not to act. Give it a chance. We’ve got a new Congress. We’ve got a new mandate. Let’s let the House of Representatives decide if they want to move forward on immigration reform or not.”

The president apparently wasn’t in a mood to wait around for Congress or take advice from the one member of the opposite party who bears more scars from the immigration fights of the last decade than any other.

On Wednesday, the White House released via Facebook a video of the president in the Oval Office dressed casually in shirtsleeves announcing that he would address the nation Thursday night to lay out the details of an executive order focusing on the steps he could take “to start fixing our broken immigration system.”

Leaning up against his desk in the same office where Ronald Reagan would never take off his suit jacket, the president was signaling a monumental shift in national policy with all the seriousness of renaming a post office.

As for the president’s contention that our immigration system is broken, on that there is bipartisan agreement. No serious Democrat or Republican can argue that our byzantine visa system, overly bureaucratic guest worker program and patchwork worker verification scheme is effective or makes any sense. 

If the president needs validation that our immigration system is a mess, I’m happy to acknowledge that fact from my corner of the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the president’s executive order demonstrates the arrogance of a leader who has surrounded himself with sycophants who are either too timid to challenge their boss or who failed to learn anything from Election Day. For years, president Obama repeatedly told the American people that he did not have the authority to act unilaterally, what changed his mind?  

One would assume he doesn’t need reminding, but this president would be well served to remember that he has very little credibility on Capitol Hill, even within his own party. The liberal New York Times earlier this summer documented what West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin described as a “fairly nonexistent” relationship with the president.

Going it alone on immigration and going around Congress isn’t going to engender more warm feelings on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. If the president is angling to get more Christmas cards from Capitol Hill, this isn’t going to work. Actions such as these demonstrate a complete disregard for the American people. Americans want to see immigration reform, but they want Congress involved

Instead the president should look to work with the new Republican majority on areas where both parties can make substantive reforms to immigration. For example, in some states, the use of the E-Verify worker verification system is more prevalent than others. Congress and the president could ensure all employers use the system. The agriculture community does not have enough labor to ensure domestic production meets the nation’s needs. Congress and the president could expand and simplify the H-2A visa allocation process. Our border security strategy over the past 10 years has focused mostly on driving up the Border Patrol’s personnel numbers. Congress and the president could ensure a more rational allocation of resources between Border Patrol and the Customs and Border Protection officers who guard the ports of entry and are just as integral to the ongoing battle against human trafficking and smuggling.

These are just a few areas where both sides can get a win and demonstrate to the American public that Washington might be mostly dysfunctional, but not hopelessly so. With a few small but important reforms, the ground might just be more fertile to take on the thornier issues of how to regularize the presence of over 11 million individuals not in the U.S. in a legal status.

Faced with an American public that soundly rejected his governance, this president has instead doubled down. Where voters asked for the humility, the president has delivered hubris. It’s too bad. He might have just derailed any hope of real immigration reform.

Nelson Balido is the managing principal at Balido and Associates, chairman of the Border Commerce and Security Council, and former member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.  Follow him on Twitter: @nelsonbalido

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