Now that President Obama has acted to defer deportation for some four to five million illegal immigrants, all eyes will be on the Republican Party's response. How they handle the challenge may well shape the future of the party and the country. Provocateurs will urge defiance. Retiring Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn even suggested, "You're going to see — hopefully not — but you could see instances of anarchy. You could see violence." More likely will be attempts to defund the president's order and legal challenges to his constitutional authority.
I would counsel a different reaction: Don't take the bait.
Sure, the president acted undemocratically — that's nothing new with this man. He is contemptuous of the American people and Congress, ignoring even members within his own party.
But the fact is, he unwittingly may have done Republicans a favor by taking action to fashion relief for those illegal immigrants who've established deep roots and whose labor and economic contributions the country needs. Americans, by large majorities, favor the substance of what the president has done — if not the process he chose — according to polls on the subject in recent years.
Moreover, most Republicans, including most GOP members of Congress, have zero interest in deporting millions of otherwise law-abiding unauthorized immigrants. So why not let the president take the heat for having come up with an alternative to deportation?
Do Republicans really want to make the case for separating parents from their American-born children, especially young ones? Who benefits from preventing parents from working — legally, and paying taxes — so that they can care for their own families and help fund government services? Why would Republicans want to deny jobs to people who eagerly seek them in order to "protect" those jobs for workers who've demonstrated they won't take them?
Smart GOP lawmakers will give speeches decrying the president's usurpation of power but lay off the beneficiaries of the executive order. It doesn't advance Republicans' values to demonize parents of American citizens, who make up most of the people affected by the president's order.
The rule of law is important — it is the foundational basis for our system of government. But not all laws are created equal. We have a broken system of immigration laws that desperately need fixing. And Republicans now have the choice — and the numbers in Congress — to fix them.
Republicans have long argued that border security is the main issue. Secure the border, and then address immigration reform, they say. But like it or not, the latter is the necessary first step to accomplish the former.
Since passage of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, we have spent well in excess of $225 billion (in current dollars) enforcing our immigration laws, according to a report by former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner. In 2012 alone, we spent more on enforcing our borders than on all other federal criminal law enforcement — nearly a quarter more than we did on the FBI, ATF, DEA, Secret Service and U.S. Marshals Service combined!
And, guess what? It's worked — or at least made a big dent in the problem. Illegal immigration has plummeted over the past several years and is now down to levels not seen since 1972. Republicans should take credit for helping stem the flow instead of pretending that we're experiencing an increase of illegal border crossers.
Our economy needs an expanding workforce. The retiring baby boomers alone will strain our ability to fill jobs much less pay for Social Security and Medicare in the years ahead. We should be welcoming young workers, not making it difficult to impossible for newcomers to gain access to jobs Americans can't or won't fill.
Republicans have an opportunity to fashion good legislative policy despite executive overreach. Is there no one among them brave enough to stand up and say let's draft meaningful reform and make our borders more secure by providing legal ways for workers to come here? The American people want that kind of leadership. They want action, not angry talk and threats.