No one denies that this country’s immigration system is badly, badly broken—a disturbing fact made even more pathetic by the fact that the nation prides itself on a culture of inclusion and a “melting pot” identity. Roughly 12 million undocumented workers live in the shadows, working, paying taxes, and raising children (who often are American citizens) while wondering if their next day will be their last on American soil, while thousands more high-skilled would-be immigrants seek entry and are denied.
Removing the threat of deportation for approximately five million immigrants is a great step in the right direction. But in the context of current political climate, President Obama’s use of his executive authority and willingness to antagonize Congress reduces any chance for cooperation and bipartisanship during his last two years in office, right when Republicans had a distinct incentive to work across the aisle. By pushing immigration policy through the executive branch, Obama doomed any chance for long lasting legislative change that will completely solve the problem, and not tie immigrants’ fates to control of the Presidency.
Republicans, though obviously enthused with their gains in the Senate, still maintain have their eyes on one prize: the presidency. In 2008 and 2012, two main factors made national success tough to come by: their lack of appeal to non-white voters, and their increasingly radical rightward shift. With control of the Senate and House, they now have the chance to show the country they have a capacity to govern, that their idea of public service amounts to more than voting to repeal Obamacare. By showing voters that, when elected, their party is willing to move towards the center, compromise, and produce commonsense, bipartisan policy, they can draw a contrast between their style of governance and that of Obama and Harry Reid. The incentive to come to the table and negotiate is there, and Obama should have taken advantage of it
This incentive would be especially strong for immigration policy. Obama won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008, and 71 percent in 2012, a disturbing trend for Republicans as the electorate continues to grow more Hispanic and less white. Elections in 2008 and 2012 showed that they simply cannot rely on old white voters to win them the Presidency; as nearly every pundit has pontificated, they need to reach out to minority voters if they want to have any chance at winning the Presidency in 2016.
Thus, with both the incentive to compromise and the need to earn minority votes, as well as the fact that 2016 is not a midterm election but a presidential one and thus relies less on parties ability to get out their base (which is extremely conservative and largely anti-immigration reform, as Eric Cantor can attest), Republicans would likely have come to the table at least at one point during this last two years. Instead, Obama nixed that possibility completely, falling right into Republican portrayals of him as too radical, too big-government, and lacking in leadership. Now, immigrant advocates will just have to pray that Democrats win the Presidency in 2016; if not, who knows what will happen to “prosecutorial discretion” with regards to immigration policy with a Republican in charge. Permanent immigration reform, already too difficult to achieve, got that much harder.