Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Obama's immigration move is a win

By Maria Cardona
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
  • President grants 5 million undocumented immigrants relief from deportation
  • Maria Cardona: President's executive order will help America in three keys ways
  • Presidents Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II have also helped undocumented
  • Cardona: Republicans should help the cause rather than fight over this issue

Editor's note: Maria Cardona is a political commentator for CNN, a Democratic strategist and principal at the Dewey Square Group. She is a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton and was communications director for the Democratic National Committee. She also is a former communications director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- President Obama finally did it. Through an executive order, the President intends to grant up to 5 million undocumented immigrants relief from deportation.

Maria Cardona
Maria Cardona

Will the angry bulls rise up? Has the well been poisoned? Will Republicans follow through on their threats of government shutdowns because they consider this an "impeachable offense"?

Republicans, who now have a responsibility to prove that they can govern, should take a step back and see what the President is trying to achieve and then decide whether it's worth expending political capital to battle over.

The President's Executive Action on deferring deportations for noncriminal undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for many years and contributed to our society will achieve three major goals:

Obama: We were strangers once too
Boehner rips Obama's immigration order
Is there a border surge coming?

1. Boost the American economy

Studies show that passing comprehensive immigration reform will increase our economic gain by more than $1.5 trillion over 10 years, decrease our deficit by almost a trillion dollars in the next 20 years, and boost GDP growth by more than 5 percentage points. While the President's action is not the permanent legislative reform we ultimately need to gain all these benefits, starting out by letting a large group of people legally work and holding them accountable by ensuring they pay their fair share of taxes will put us on a more prosperous path.

2. Strengthen our national security

Millions of undocumented immigrants will now be allowed to come out of the shadows, be identified, given background checks and legal work permits. This will help us understand who they are and if any are here to do us harm.

3. Help keep families together

America was built on the labor of generations of immigrants. Our strength as a country comes also from the strength of families. Instead of deporting grandmothers and fathers and children, the President will use our precious resources to deport gang members instead. This priority will reduce the tragic loss that occurs when families are torn apart by senseless deportations.

For a political party that prides itself in standing for a strong economy, strong national security and strong family values, please tell me -- which of these values are Republicans so adamantly against?

The President's detractors say he has no constitutional authority to give relief to so many people. While the courts may ultimately decide this, as someone who has worked in what was formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, I can tell you without question, the President indeed has prosecutorial discretion to decide which limited resources to dedicate to which undocumented immigrants he wants to deport. In fact, immigration officials, district attorneys and other law enforcement personnel exercise prosecutorial discretion every single day.

Moreover, Presidents Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II, each in their own ways, used executive authorities derived from this notion of prosecutorial discretion to grant relief to whole populations of undocumented immigrants for many reasons.

Conservatives who oppose the President might also say that an executive order on immigration will poison the well and that he should work with Congress to pass a legitimate and permanent reform the way it should be passed: in Congress.

I would be the first one to advise President Obama to wait in favor of congressional action. And by the way, it is the preferred way to go. There is just one problem. We have already seen this movie and we know how it ends. The President has been trying for years to get Congress on the same page. But Republicans have looked for excuses, continued to move the goalposts and voted several times to deport DREAMers.

Republicans must understand just how ridiculous they sound when they say President Obama should wait until the new Congress is sworn in and work with them to pass real reform. Who in their right minds -- no pun intended -- thinks that with both houses of Congress controlled by more conservative Republicans who ran on a platform to oppose anything President Obama does, we can get a bill out of Congress that the President can sign?

Republicans will point out that the American people are not on the side of the President on the immigration issue by pointing to a recent USA Today poll indicating that 46% preferred waiting for a Republican Congress to take action, while 42% approved of the President taking unilateral action now.

However, perhaps a better reflection is the Washington Post September 2014 poll that asked whether Americans would support presidential action in the absence of any congressional action. Support rose to 52%.

The absence of congressional action is exactly what we have had for the past year and half. As such, the American people cannot now let Republicans off the hook to get comprehensive immigration reform done legislatively, no matter how upset the GOP may be that the President acted. Temper tantrums are not an excuse for no action.

So, the President delivered on his executive action and he, the Democrats and the immigration advocacy community will now have to work diligently to explain to the American people that the well is not poisoned, and that this is the right thing to do for our economy, national security and above all, it is consistent with our American values.

For Republicans, it is not too late. They can make what the President announced moot and irrelevant. How? House Speaker John Boehner could bring the current bipartisan Senate immigration bill to the House floor for a vote on Friday -- and it would pass. Done.

So when the Republicans get it together, if they can get it together to pass something the President can sign, the President's unilateral action would be stopped, the angry bulls will calm down, and showdowns, shutdowns and impeachment hearings can be left for another day.

Most importantly, the American people would finally see their elected leaders put politics aside and do what is best for the country.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on

Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:51 AM EST, Wed December 31, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says the AirAsia flight had similarities to Air France 447, which also encountered bad weather
updated 8:29 AM EST, Wed December 31, 2014
Poverty isn't the only reason why so many parents are paying to have their child smuggled into the United States, says Carole Geithner
updated 11:49 AM EST, Wed December 31, 2014
Michael Rubin says it's a farce that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei posted tweets criticizing U.S. police
updated 1:40 PM EST, Wed December 31, 2014
Ron Friedman says your smartphone may be making you behave stupidly; resolve to resist distractions in 2015
updated 8:32 AM EST, Tue December 30, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.