Midway through this evening’s election watch, I imagine the President’s and the Democrat’s pain must have been palpable. Even as North Carolina was still too close to call, it was clear that the Republicans would return in January in control of both houses of Congress. Mid-evening, it was clear that Republicans would hold at minimum 53 seats in the Senate. Subsequently, North Carolina was called for Republican Tillis in a stunning upset virtually guaranteeing the Republicans 54 votes in January. Add to that the substantial Republican gains in the US House as well as many key Governor’s races, and it all adds up to a challenging final two years for the Obama presidency. What’s a lame duck President to do?
Times like these call for courage and focus. The president has had six years to lead the country to reform our broken immigration system and the broken promise it represents to our nation’s most precious asset, its future. Having waited until 2012, Obama did nothing to address immigration other than increase removals to historic highs and then, in the last hour of this first term, a woefully inadequate exercise of prosecutorial discretion benefiting, to date, less than 600,000 worthy beneficiaries. Two months ago he promised to expand prosecutorial discretion relief by the end of 2014. Now he has suffered the loses of November 2014. With his presidential legacy at risk, eight years of residency in the White House without better results for the immigrant community represents an incredible disappointment to a constituency profoundly important to the Democrat Party’s future.
However, imagine if President Obama actually makes good on his promise. While legislative immigration reform is a long stretch at best in the next two years with the 2016 presidential race already under way, the strategic as well as moral case for a “go big” administrative action is compelling. If the President moves to extend deferred action to eight or nine million hard working, tax paying, contributing members of our communities, he would force this issue onto the new Congress’ agenda.
More significantly, with eight or nine million worthy individuals allowed to emerge from the shadows, they will inevitably take their places among us as co-workers, fellow parishioners, students, taxpayers–i.e. our friends and neighbors and not the scary monsters they have been portrayed to be. This would represent the greatest hope we have of changing the entire context and tone of the immigration reform debate. It may also force the Republican Congress to actually address immigration in a serious manner. If the Republicans have the courage to take up the issue, they will be forced to address a path to legalization for the 12 million undocumented immigrants since many of them would already be the recipient of expanded deferred action. Of course, if the Republicans choose to only cry foul and push back, a 46 or 47 seat Democrat firewall in the Senate can stop them. Then on to 2016 and beyond.
In the process, the President, and by extension the Democrat party, will have lived up to their promise made to the immigrant community. Additionally, they will have proven themselves worthy of a legacy they can be proud of and which honors our nation’s past and helps to secure its future.