Immigration reform is alive, but not in Congress

 

Congress has become increasingly disrupted by fringe voices, preventing urgently needed reform of our outdated immigration system. The U.S. Constitution, a product of political pragmatism and experience, intended to include representative participation while at the same time not completely chaining a president's authority to it.

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The framers created a system that not only allowed but compelled executive action in times of crisis and absence of legislative leadership. Even Alexander Hamilton asserted in the Federalist Papers that "energy in the executive is the leading character in the definition of good government." Efforts to reform our immigration system this year are not over, but change can only come from the president of the United States.

Indeed, the current broken immigration system is creating a crisis of family separation, with millions of American citizens in mixed-status families being affected. Recently, the failure of Congress to act has exacerbated the crisis of refugee children crossing the border, which has been overwhelming federal agencies.

The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that the president's power includes "absolute discretion" to determine the allocation of enforcement resources: The president's power to cancel enforcement proceedings that are not in the national interest is a central component of the executive power entrusted in him by the vesting clause of Article II of the Constitution.

While we fight to achieve a permanent legislative solution, victory for our country must not be chained by congressional dysfunction under House Republicans, specially as they continue to make excuses not to act.

Just as presidents before him have embraced their constitutional power to move the country forward, President Obama last week finally took leadership, announcing that he would take action on immigration. The president cannot stop all deportations; however, he can drastically reduce them unilaterally to bring immediate relief to millions of families.

Now the president must act boldly and swiftly, including expanding deportation relief to other identifiable groups who are low priority with no violent criminal records; refine prosecutorial discretion ensuring parents who return to be with their families are not deported; update Department of Defense policy to allow Dreamers to serve in the military; and properly reform the Secure Communities program so that local police will focus their attention on fighting crime.

Republicans have resorted to shortsighted politics and stunts suggesting Obama's past or potential executive actions on immigration are unconstitutional, will destroy legislative momentum, or worst, are causing the migration of minors crossing the southern border.

Although administrative relief is not citizenship, it's better than fearing deportations year after year as the country waits for legislation that never seems to come while Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) continue to relinquish their constitutional mandate to legislate to extreme voices of the Tea party like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).

Even the Senate has not been spared: Enjoying long terms, the founders envisioned senators would prioritize the national interest more than personal agendas. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has proven these assumptions wrong: the Tea Party Senator has been blocking any type of reform, a priority below only shutting down the government and his presidential ambitions, while blaming the president for responding to a crisis.

Republicans claim it is the president's record on immigration enforcement that makes them unable to support reform. President Obama, however, has been deporting more immigrants than any president in history, nearing a record of 2 million people.

The advantage of executive action is clear: Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander and independent voters came out in large numbers to support Obama after halting deportations of Dreamers. Though there was a movement to repeal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), no Republican with a serious national profile dared touch it.

Should Obama act, the GOP would be in an even worse position to attack him: They will scream impeachment so they can return to legislating, although that is absurd considering their failure in legislating, and impeaching a president can only take place for "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

Presidential leadership is no ground for impeachment.

The American people demand leadership in times of crisis. Congress has failed to act; now it's in the hands of the president of the United States to act courageously and without delay.

Vargas is co-director of the DREAM Action Coalition and a national activist for immigration reform.