On Obama Immigration Order, Republicans Push Wrong Panic Button

At a time when Republicans should be pushing the panic button on their increasingly difficult electoral college math, instead they are stampeding in reaction to President Obama’s immigration executive action. Republicans and conservative pundits call Obama’s use of executive order anything from “executive fiat” to “executive amnesty” to a “constitutional crisis.” Pay no attention to the fact that Obama did nothing unusual in comparison to the executive orders issued by presidents over the past half century.

The only substantive thing that Obama’s executive action does from a legal status standpoint is to offer a temporary reprieve from being deported to roughly four million undocumented parents of U.S. citizens if they have been in the United States for more than five years. The president also expanded the definition of the “Dreamers,” children who were brought to the United States before the age of sixteen, removing the upper age limit of thirty, deferring action for an additional 290,000. This is not amnesty. This is not a pardon. This does not offer citizenship status to undocumented immigrants. Obama’s executive action is designed to do one thing: Remove the imminent fear of deportation, and keep families together. So Obama did not change the law, he simply changed immigration enforcement priorities, something previous presidents have done including George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, both Republicans.

So why are Republicans so worked up? Notice that the over-the-top reaction to Obama’s executive action is more on process than substance. “[T]he critique is mostly about Obama’s usurpation of power and contempt for democratic norms, not the substance of his policy change,” says Noam Scheiber in the New Republic. “And yet, try as they might to stick to the script, there’s something about dark-skinned foreigners that sends the conservative id into overdrive. Most famously, there’s Iowa Congressman Steve King’s observation last year that for every child brought into the country illegally ‘who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.'” That’s not to say all Republicans show this level of racism and discrimination, but the Republican Party is being steered by the Steve King’s and the Michele Bachmann’s of the modern GOP.

Ultra-conservative Republicans don’t want Obama doing anything on immigration, but they also refuse to do anything legislatively. The Senate did manage to pass a bi-partisan immigration bill, but the Republican dominated House of Representatives won’t even take up the issue. Speaker John Boehner won’t allow the House to a simple vote on the Senate bill, possibly because he knows it will pass with strong Democratic support and enough Republican support to eke out a legislative win. And that’s because Boehner is allowing his tenure as Speaker to be controlled by the same narrow-minded forces at the helm of the modern GOP.

What exactly do Republican propose to fix our broken immigration policy? We know a sticky wicket for conservatives is amnesty. They say “illegal immigrants” broke the law, and we should not reward people who break the law by granting them citizenship and enfranchisement. But this is an untenable position. Estimates put the number of undocumented immigrants over 10 million, possibly as high as 17 million. Republicans have a flimsy case to make because their position is based on what they want, not what’s practical. What they want is to deport “illegals.” But what is practical is that we recognize that we are benefiting from the labor of undocumented immigrants, and in most cases there is nothing that separates them from the American spirit other than legal status. After all, the only reason most of us get to claim citizenship is by accident of birth.

So Republicans and conservatives have lost their shit on Obama’s immigration action, but they might want to quickly regain their composure because the next presidential election is less than two years away. The country is getting more diverse, not less. The electoral math for Republicans is getting more difficult, not less. If Republicans continue to foster a conversation steeped in jingoism, fanaticism, nationalism, an zealotry, they will continue to shed electoral college votes.

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