Immigration’s opponents are winning. 

Not necessarily because they are winning elections, but because they have made immigrants nameless, faceless pawns in an excruciating political war. And now these forces are gathering around potential administrative action. 


President George W. Bush’s commerce secretary Carlos Gutierrez put it best when he told the Associated Press, "The Republicans can overreact and give the impression that they're not so much against the concept of executive action but that they're against immigrants. And that would be a big problem." 

Reasonable voices on immigration, even Republican supporters of the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate, suddenly find themselves at risk of being drowned out by anti-immigrant activists who declare any change to immigration policy to be amnesty. Politics is nothing if it isn’t about responding to intensity. 

The problem is the missed opportunity that results. 

As the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue have descended into a battle of wills on immigration, conservative faith, law enforcement and business leaders across the country are telling a different story, one to which Congress and the president should pay close heed. 

No one is happy Congress has been unable to move forward with legislative reforms. And no one is happy with the politics of President Obama acting on his own to bring temporary fixes to the immigration system. 

Yet, many are relieved some sort of change is on the horizon. 

Business leaders want a stable workforce around which they can create more jobs. Law enforcement officials like the idea of not spending hours processing immigration violations, diverting resources from pursuing actual criminals. Faith leaders look forward to stories of families relieved of fear in their congregations, rather than stories about families separated by deportations.                                                                                                                              

In addition to speaking to their interests, these conservative faith, law enforcement and business leaders talk about immigrants as people they know, people they value. That hasn’t changed, even in a toxic political environment. 

They empathize with the dreams, aspirations and struggles of the immigrant community — documented or not. They tire of the politics of destruction. 

And that is why Secretary Gutierrez’s words of caution are so important. Immigration is a debate about people. 

The political debate has completely dehumanized immigrants and immigration, which is exactly what anti-immigrant forces want.  

A purely political response to potential administrative action effectively turns the microphone over to fringe voices. Public support for immigrants and immigration is likely to plummet, and it will be nearly impossible for Republicans to pass — and take credit for — their own set of reforms. 

So, how do Republicans go beyond simply objecting to administrative action and lay the groundwork for legislation in ’15, allowing them to compete for Hispanic and centrist voters in 2016? Keep it simple: 

“The immigration system is broken. Our economy suffers because we cannot compete for talent. Immigrant families are deeply wounded. Law enforcement resources on the border and the interior are spread thin. Administrative action doesn’t fix the problem. But we will. Only legislative change is permanent, and Republicans will pass legislation.” 

To put a finer point on it, pass reform so the country will be, in the words of Sheldon Adelson, “the America that I’m proud to live in.” 

If the new leadership of Congress is serious about immigration reform in 2015 and credit for it in 2016, they will respond to administrative action rationally and compassionately, wrap a legislative plan around economic growth and family values, and take credit for passing legislation. 

Noorani is the executive director of the National Immigration Forum.