07:19 - Source: CNN
Obama immigration remarks 'declaration of war'

Story highlights

Ruben Navarrette: President Obama has no more excuse to not address immigration

Navarrette: He can use executive power to fix system and offer relief to undocumented

He says Republicans also need to act; they can work on a bill that reforms the broken system

Editor’s Note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

San Diego, California CNN —  

The Dream 9 are back where they belong – in the United States. But this story isn’t over. The fault lines it exposed within the immigration reform movement remain.

It’s time to keep your word and do what you promised to do before the end of summer — use the executive power of the presidency to fix part of the immigration system and offer relief to millions of undocumented immigrants.

Of course, there’s a lot of debate about what that “fix” would look like. You seem to be considering two specific goals: decreasing the number of deportations and strengthening border security.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Courtesy San Diego Union Tribune
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

The former might mean giving temporary work permits to 1 or 2 million people. The latter is low-hanging fruit, since both Democrats and Republicans are always eager to throw money at the border by hiring more agents and building more walls.

The trouble is that activists want a lot more – a total moratorium on deportations, and the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program beyond its intended beneficiaries (undocumented young people brought as children) to include the parents of DACA recipients and parents with U.S.-born children. They want work permits for as many as 4 or 5 million people.

Frankly, as I’ve said before, I don’t think any of this is going to happen. This week’s election is over, but there’s always another series of elections around the corner. Given that many Americans still resist the idea of rewarding illegal activity by conferring legal status to the undocumented, for other Democrats there would be a significant downside to using executive action. Who would worry? For one, probably Hillary Clinton, who is eager to run for president in 2016 but not eager to take the blame for executive action taken by the previous president.

Besides, Mr. President, let’s look at what you told reporters in this week’s press conference. You said, “I have no doubt that there will be some Republicans who are angered or frustrated by any executive action that I may take.”

May take? Don’t you mean “will” take?

And, if I’m wrong and something does happen on the executive front, it likely won’t be what immigration activists want. You might throw them a crumb, which the loyal Latino Democrats who have been apologists for your administration will generously declare a full loaf of bread.

Time and again, you have held out the promise of executive action to Latino voters who want reform and who are furious at you for deporting a record 2 million people in five years. Those of us with long memories can appreciate the irony of this exercise given that you spent much of your first term arguing that you weren’t “a king” and insisting you didn’t have the executive power you now claim to be eager to use.

Meanwhile, Mr. President, you’ve used the promise of executive action as a cynical ploy intended to distract critics and rally support for Democratic candidates for elective office. The sad part is that, for a while, it actually worked.

But, take a look at the election returns. It’s not working anymore. Hispanics never turn out in large numbers for midterm elections. Even so, this year’s showing was weaker than usual.

According to some exit polls, Hispanic voters made up only 8% of 2014 voters. It was 10% in 2012.

This isn’t surprising. If you want people to vote, you’ve got to get them excited and interested and vested in the outcome of the election. Democrats didn’t do that with Latino voters. Perhaps that’s because, in places like the South, they were busy impersonating Republicans.

And speaking of the GOP, there’s no argument that your loyal opposition is part of the problem. The day after retaking the Senate, they were already blasting away at what they’re calling your planned “executive amnesty.”

What nonsense. For one thing, amnesty is a permanent legislative solution, and all the President has the power to do is offer temporary relief. For another, if Republicans are really that nervous about the President acting on his own on immigration reform, then they should do something they’ve been reluctant to do for decades — cobble together a bill that offers legal status to at least some of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

Isn’t that exactly what Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, recently predicted would happen if voters put the Senate back in the hands of Republicans?

Well consider it done. Now, we might ask, where is the willingness on the part of GOP lawmakers to pass an immigration reform bill rather than continue to demagogue the issue?

As with the White House, Republicans are out of excuses. Their stalling has worn thin. And the hour is late.

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