After GOP failure, Obama should reform America's immigration system

Call me a bright-eyed optimist. Until very recently, I have forcibly advocated for congressional action to finally resolve the nation's dysfunctional immigration system. Enough of executive actions  — it's time for a law to be dully passed by Congress.

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I even criticized activists for taking the proverbial eye off the ball — pressuring President Obama and leaving Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the only man who can call a vote in the House, off the hook.

Of course, I had the expectation that when faced with a decomposing electoral coalition, ever more homogenous, smaller and older, Boehner and other Republicans would see the wisdom in not further alienating minorities with hateful rhetoric and, most importantly, by finally passing the Senate's bipartisan immigration reform bill. After all, considering a bill, debating it and voting is what Congress does.

I was wrong.

In speaking with House Republicans over the last two weeks, I have not been able to get one single positive response to my question: Will the House pass the immigration reform bill before August? Not one member of Congress I spoke to has expressed even the slightest bit of optimism.

I will not here repeat all the benefits to America that accrue once immigration reform, some version of the Senate bill, goes into effect. Suffice it to say that the significant economic benefits (as pointedly articulated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many others on the right, center and left) are apparently insufficient empirical reasons to drive the Speaker and his leadership team to schedule a vote of the House.

In fact, things have even gotten worse. The GOP's chief spokesman on immigration, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), engineered yet another vote to pass a bill that would deport all Dreamers. Yes, in the midst of overwhelming public sentiment (even among Republicans) in favor of immigration reform, King gets Republicans in the House to support a symbolic statement of bigotry against young immigrants.

Executive action has become a hot-button issue in Washington. Republicans talk about impeachment as if were now the norm when faced with a Democratic White House. Yet as the president promised in his State of the Union speech, if Congress does not act, he will.

The president has already moved to cut carbon emissions using the Environmental Protection Agency when Republicans in Congress blocked a debate on one of the most pressing national security issues — climate change.

When the minimum wage bill was killed by a Republican filibuster in the Senate, Obama changed federal regulations to make contractors working for the government pay a living wage. Using the president's convening power, he has jaw-jawed CEOs to consider fair wages.

One notable result — McDonald's Corp., which was in deep denial about the living conditions of its low-wage workers, has now announced its support for a rise of the federal minimum wage.

Recently, Obama has suggested that if the House does not act on immigration reform before the August recess, he will act with as-yet-undisclosed measures to reform the immigration system. While this approach is clearly the less optimal route vis-a-vis congressional action, it increasingly appears that it is the only viable path forward.

Republicans have successfully blocked almost all of the president's initiatives. They wear obstructionism like a medal on their chest. Now they should pay the price for serving narrow ideological and economic interest groups – instead of America.

What price? A broad, generous and smart executive order that recreates the immigration system as we know it. Obama, who like President Reagan in the 1980s, was pushing for a bipartisan bill, will now get what the Republican most feared – the credit for resolving a problem that the dysfunctional GOP House could not manage.

Republicans will also get another bitter prize: the cementing of Hispanic support for the Democratic Party.

Mr. President, please act, act boldly and resolve this national security and economically transcendent problem. America needs a solution to the immigration mess — and you are the fixer-in-chief.

Espuelas, a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute, is a political analyst on television, radio and in print. He is the host and managing editor of “The Fernando Espuelas Show,” a daily political talk show syndicated nationally by the Univision America Network. Contact him at contact@espuelas.com and via Twitter @EspuelasVox.