Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) has it right on immigration reform. President Obama has it only half right.
They agree it is time to flip the script on congressional opponents of legislation to modernize the nation’s failed immigration system. The current system amounts to a mindless set of laws that makes it next to impossible to get the world’s brightest and most talented people into the country, and punishes employers and hardworking people who fill the nation’s need for low-wage workers.
But so far only Gutierrez has a plan for how to stand up and call the bluff of the political bullies blocking immigration reform.
Gutierrez is urging Obama to sign an executive order halting the deportation of all illegal immigrants who are college age. With that one step the president can shift the political dynamics and force the loudmouths to stop their fear-mongering and get serious about reform.
For years, right-wing extremists and bellicose talk show hosts have made it impossible to deal rationally with immigration. The central fact is that there are about 12 million illegal immigrants in the country who are not going anywhere. The U.S. government does not have the manpower, handcuffs or buses to send these illegals back to Mexico, Ireland and China.
The most crucial fact of all is that the American people want immigration reform, according to poll after poll. A March Pew poll found 72 percent want a law that sets terms for illegal immigrants to get citizenship. They want the people now living in the limbo of illegal immigration to have the chance to become tax-paying, law-abiding citizens. In a nation of immigrants, the American people want border security but most of all they want to end the waste of time and money that comes with treating hardworking people seeking the American dream as criminals.
But the small number of intensely vocal Americans who want to kick out every illegal immigrant have distorted the political marketplace and drowned out the will of the people. They are still scaring every conservative on Capitol Hill with a tired but paralyzing argument.
They repeat over and over again, while holding fingers in their ears, that any immigration reform law will reward people who committed a crime to get here or stay here by giving them “amnesty.” They ignore the reality that by not reforming the law we allow a culture of mass lawbreaking to stay in place.
Lately, these opponents of reform are saying Republicans have to oppose any bill because Obama just wants to shore up his political base with Hispanic voters. If that is the problem, why did the same angry crowd stop President Bush’s efforts at immigration reform?
And why did they stop a bipartisan effort last year to offer a chance at citizenship to young people who were brought to the United States before they were 16, provided they either enroll in college or enlist in the military?
Last week, the president traveled to El Paso to point out that he has put more agents and more technology — and built a fence — on the border. He didn’t mention it, but he has also increased the rate of deportation of illegal immigrants beyond the level of the Bush administration.
He made the case that the borders are more secure than ever. But he was still left to politely ask the anti-immigration-reform bullies to please play fair.
Enter Gutierrez, proposing the use of the executive order to end deportation of people under 16. This one step would have the same effect as the DREAM Act, which would have applied to college students or military enlistees but was defeated in December. It would also put the focus on politicians who delight in Congress’ inability to deal with this major issue.
“The president’s diagnosis of the policy and the political problem is perfect but his proposed remedy — waiting for Congress to pass a bill — misses the urgency of the problem,” Gutierrez said in a statement.
A mandatory employment-verification plan is ready to go as part of any reform. But “still Republicans will not come forward to discuss how we move forward.” He concluded that Obama “has the power to make things better right now without Congress having to pass any new laws and I will continue to encourage him to do so.” He is talking about the executive order ending deportation of people under 16.
The congressman is totally right. It is time to fight back against the bullies with hardball tactics. The President can create a coalition of business, military, unions, educators and religious leaders right now by taking Gutierrez’ advice.
An executive order in the name of saving the lives of children who call the U.S.A. home and are working to make our country better is a first step forward.
Watch the bullies back up.
Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel. This column originally in The Hill.