“The failure of House Republicans to pass a darn bill is bad for our security, bad for our economy, and it’s bad for our future. Drop the excuses.”
So said President Obama in reference to the refusal of the House of Representatives to act on immigration reform legislation. The president then vowed to use executive orders to enact reforms without congressional approval. This has sparked criticism from conservatives. The president insists he has no other option. In a recent Rose Garden announcement, he said, “I take executive action only when we have a serious problem, a serious issue and Congress chooses to do nothing.”
There’s no question this is a serious problem that requires a solution. The recent influx of thousands of Central American children crossing the border is just the latest symptom of our broken immigration system. The Senate passed a bill more than a year ago that garnered significant bipartisan support. Republicans in the House have allowed it to languish. Too many lawmakers refuse to consider anything beyond the raw political calculus of how reform efforts will impact their re-election chances.
Consider that the primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia has spooked Republican lawmakers. They attribute his loss to his support for immigration reform. While Cantor’s defeat was earth-shattering inside the Beltway, the reality is that he represents just one of 435 congressional districts. Consider Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He faced primary opposition from a candidate who made Graham’s support of immigration reform a central campaign issue. Graham won his primary without difficulty. It is simplistic to assume that a single congressional primary loss represents a national mandate for inaction on immigration.
Congress doesn’t seem to recognize that the on-the-ground realities of immigration don’t always correlate with partisan narratives. Representatives in Washington have a responsibility to address complex and often intractable issues. To ignore such problems solely because they’re politically unpalatable is a dereliction of the duty that a lawmaker assumes when she or he takes the oath of office.
Utah’s congressional delegation has the opportunity to lead the way on this. Since 2010, the Utah Compact has enunciated five principles to guide the immigration debate: seeking federal solutions; focusing law enforcement on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code; uniting rather than separating families; recognizing immigrants’ contributions to the economy; and adopting a humane and inclusive attitude toward immigrants. This is a matter that requires the attention and good-faith efforts of every member of Congress, particularly those from Utah — regardless of whether they are Democratic or Republican.
President Obama’s decision to act unilaterally is not the best way to approach any legislative matter. We can avoid this fate through action on immigration by members of Congress.