After years of congressional inaction on reforms that are needed to fix our broken immigration system, President Obama has taken steps to focus immigration enforcement on those people who pose a real threat to Americans while bringing other groups of immigrants out of the shadows. Sadly, right-wing leaders have slammed these reasonable and compassionate efforts as the lawless actions of a dictator, yet another sign of just how poisonous and partisan our political culture has become and the tragic effect that has on hard-working Americans. Thanks in part to their efforts, and a flawed ruling by a federal judge in southern Texas, new protections for immigrant families that were intended to go into effect May 19 are on hold.  

The first of Obama’s administrative actions, announced in 2012, was DACA, a program that defers the deportation of young people who were brought into this country as children, a group known as the DREAMers. There is little to be gained by deporting someone whose parents brought them to the US as a young child, someone who has grown up here, gone to school here, and is ready to begin contributing to his or her community. 

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The next executive actions came last year, after yet another failure by congressional Republicans to act on immigration reform. President Obama announced an expansion of DACA along with a new program, DAPA, that would defer the deportation of parents of American children who had been living in the US for years. The program was designed to reduce the number of families being pulled apart and to focus immigration enforcement on those with records of criminal behavior. And despite the rhetoric of the Right, neither DACA nor DAPA grants amnesty or a permanent legal status to any immigrants.

All these actions are fully consistent with the president’s constitutional authority to carry out the country’s laws. His establishment of enforcement priorities is in line with actions taken by other presidents, Republican and Democratic.  But conservatives are so hostile to  Obama, and anti-immigration groups are now so closely aligned with the Republican Party, that these good-faith actions have been denounced with extreme and irresponsible rhetoric – and not only from the far-right fringes, but also from high-ranking elected officials.

Republicans used the immigration actions as a political opportunity to slam the president and score points with their far-right, anti-immigrant base. And this isn’t just a few fringe congressmen. Consider what GOP presidential contenders have been saying. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has called President Obama’s executive actions “an abuse of power” like those of a “Latin American dictator.” Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzUp next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet 228 Republican lawmakers urge Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade MORE (R-Texas) called DACA “lawless” and urged the Senate to block Obama administration judicial and executive branch nominees as long as the “illegal amnesty” is in place. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.) likened the executive actions to the “tyranny of King George.” Ben Carson said the recent action is part of a “nefarious agenda” to bring government-dependent voters to the U.S. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) said Obama is acting “like a tyrant” who “thinks he is above the law and above the Constitution.” Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulUp next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators Only two people cited by TSA for mask violations have agreed to pay fine MORE (Ky.) even compared  the immigration actions with the creation of internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Similarly divisive rhetoric is coming from current and former members of Congress, other Republican officials, and far-right activists and pundits. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said deportation relief could turn the U.S. into a “lawless third-world nation” and Obama into a “king.” Rep Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksKinzinger supports Jan. 6 panel subpoenas for Republicans, including McCarthy DOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's riot lawsuit Ex-Sen. Jones rips Mo Brooks over 'irony' remark on Texas Democrats getting COVID-19 MORE (R-Ala.) suggested that Congress should threaten Obama with criminal contempt, fines, and jail time. Rep. Trent FranksHarold (Trent) Trent FranksOn The Trail: Arizona is microcosm of battle for the GOP Arizona New Members 2019 Cook shifts 8 House races toward Dems MORE (R-Ariz.) warned that the immigration actions “literally could be the death of the Republic.” Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) said Republicans in Congress have a “constitutional duty” to impeach President Obama over his immigration actions.

Believe it or not, some right-wing pundits are even more extreme, comparing Obama to Hitler and asserting that Obama’s actions can only mean that he wants to start a race war.  

Some conservatives hailed the February court ruling that temporarily prevents DAPA from being implemented as a vindication of their attacks on Obama’s executive actions. But the judge did not rule on the president’s constitutional authority; rather, he said the administration did not follow appropriate procedures for federal rule-making, a faulty assertion that is being appealed.  

Meanwhile, more hard-working immigrants and their families remain at risk, thanks to the efforts of the country’s increasingly reckless right wing. Shame on them.

Montgomery is a senior fellow at People For the American Way and an associate editor at Religion Dispatches.