We are facing what the Defense secretary has characterized as an unprecedented threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, al-Nusra is threatening Israeli Defense forces on the border of the Golan Heights, and the Russians are pushing further and more enthusiastically into Ukraine — it must be time to pick a huge political fight over immigration policy.
Administration officials confirm President Obama and his team are preparing an expansive new policy through executive action that bypasses Congress and defers deportations while increasing visas and green cards just two months before the midterm elections. Such a controversial move raises questions not only about the president’s political judgment and motivations but his accountability as commander in chief, as it would create a political firestorm for both Democrats and Republicans alike and reveal a willingness of the Obama administration to take its eye off of the numerous and far more urgent crises overseas.
While this has been accepted by both sides as imminent, it is unnecessary — not entirely because Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and some others have said executive action on immigration would prompt calls for impeachment; not entirely because some Republicans have also threatened a government shutdown over new executive action; and not entirely because the move would damage Democratic senators in states Obama lost badly to Mitt Romney in 2012 who are trying to get reelected. House Republicans, prone to political implosion, could surely end up overreacting and paying a price for it, but the odds are a unilateral attempt at immigration reform by the president still hurts Democrats more than Republicans in the near term. It’s hard to argue that this is not action the president could simply delay another three months, then announce before or during the lame-duck session of Congress in December when the political landscape for his last two years in office is far more clear.
Obama will rationalize that he must take action on his own not only because the Congress has failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform but because the border crisis in the Rio Grande Valley demands emergency funding that Congress has failed to provide him. After Obama requested nearly $4 billion in July, House Republicans passed a bill that would never pass the Senate, and the Senate refused to act, as usual. But having ignored the border crisis for more than two years, calling the border crisis an emergency — particularly in light of the urgency the ISIS threat represents in Iraq, Syria and beyond — doesn’t sound so credible. And while administration officials can argue the Office of Refugee Resettlement within the Health and Human Services Department needs additional funds to cope with the flow of central American migrants at the border, no new policy of deferring deportations or expanding new immigration is likely, after all the costs, to produce those resources.
Maybe it’s time for President Obama to solve problems, and not create them. He could wait until the electorate weighs in on this difficult issue and perhaps then he could act alone. He could focus for now on how best to protect our security needs while wars rage throughout the Middle East. He could do his job, which is to work hard for what we need, and not what he wants.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.