Don't wait for President Obama to act on immigration reform

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In the House, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Godlatte (R-Va.), Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), even former Republican Vice President nominee Paul Ryan have shown an eagerness on tackling immigration reform. In the Senate, the “gang of eight” and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have been meeting to create a compromise. While it is easier said than done, Senate and House should not forget that they can agree and pass a bill in their respective houses and send a bill to the president.

During the “fiscal cliff”, the country saw productive work from experienced current and former legislators like Joe Biden and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as they hammered out a compromised that at least got beyond the “cliff.”

So why is Congress waiting for President Obama?

Over the weekend, Erika Andiola, one of the most nationally prominent and recognizable immigration activists in the country, had to fight the deportation of her mother and older brother. Fortunately, Erika quickly activated a national network to bring her family home. Unfortunately, most undocumented immigrants do not have this network.  

In the 2012 fiscal year that ended September 30, an unprecedented 409,849 people were deported. This is what the Obama Administration’s immigration enforcement record looks like: a record number of deportations of hardworking parents and siblings who are victims of an antiquated immigration system.

Of course, President Obama does not personally order the detainment of non-criminal undocumented immigrants, like Erika’s elderly mother. And I am certain President Obama feels the pain of U.S. Citizen parents, children, and workers who are victims of rogue agents in Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) that ignore DHS policy to go after “worst of the worst.” But he does have the power to oversee ICE and reject suspected quotas the Department of Homeland Security operates under.

Republicans allege the president is trampling on the constitution as he seeks ways to act without Congress. But as William G. Howell, University of Chicago political science professor, indicates, the president’s use of executive power to advance domestic policies that could not pass Congress is not new and within his power. What is also not new is that such increase in executive power and action has traditionally been the result of partisan gridlock that blocks a legislative path to address an issue. Republicans have no one to blame but themselves.

While President Obama has, through executive action, stopped the deportation of young people who would qualify under the DREAM Act, this was a result of pressure by the same immigrant youth movement that has stopped countless deportations. DACA was not the president’s own initiative, though it payed off politically during the election. Today, Congress still has historically low respect and approval ratings from the American people. Immigration can be their chance to show the country they can be a mature equal branch of government and legislate to effectively address the nation’s most pressing problems.      


Vargas is executive director for the DREAM (DRM) Action Coalition and a national activist for the DREAM Act.

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