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President Must Do What Congress' GOP Leaders Can't Do on Immigration Reform | Commentary

In the continuing legislative disarray that has marked the current session of the Republican-controlled Congress, House GOP members have elected Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as their new Majority Leader. The job is an important one, as the leader decides which legislation will go to the full House for a vote.

There is nothing about this leadership change to suggest, however, that the GOP will behave any differently on commonsense immigration reform.

Nearly one year has passed since the Senate approved S. 744, a bipartisan immigration reform proposal that was not perfect (indeed, extremely problematic in some areas), but would have gone a long way toward fixing many of the failings of the nation’s immigration system. Instead of acting during the last year, the current leadership team, including McCarthy, caved in to extremists and held floor votes advanced by immigration opponents including anti-immigrant extremist Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.

McCarthy’s rise on the leadership ladder only means that Republicans have a new excuse — the need for more time for the leadership transition as they prepare for mid-term elections. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama’s plan to give Congress time to act on immigration reform before the August congressional recess will continue to result in even more families being ripped from their loved ones and communities.

Enough. With the House embracing its extremist wing, Obama must fill the leadership void. He should immediately use his executive authority to reform the draconian and inhumane detention and deportation system. He should create a legal means by which aspiring citizens can come forward to register for a program that provides them temporary relief from deportation.

Obama embraced his leadership two years ago when he recognized that our dysfunctional immigration system was deporting young people. After great pressure from young immigrants and allies, he created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has allowed over 600,000 young people to become full participants in our democracy. The program – from an economic, societal, and political perspectives – has been a success.

The achievements of the “DACAmented” who are now reapplying for a two-year renewal, was celebrated at the White House this week when 10 individuals were named “Champions of Change” for their extraordinary work since applying for and becoming eligible for DACA.

One of these honorees is my colleague, Kamal Essaheb, who went from fighting to stop his own deportation to becoming a persuasive and powerful advocate in Washington. His personal journey exposes the Alice in Wonderland-like quality of our country’s deportation priorities: Just a few years ago, the government had prioritized this scholarship-winning law student for deportation. Earlier this week, the Obama administration lauded his contributions to this country.

Other DACA honorees shared their stories and their fears of being deported before DACA. They also lauded the program for letting them live a dignified life, work without being exploited, help support their parents and younger siblings economically, and achieve a higher education. They described the DACA program as giving them hope, opportunities, and unleashing their full potential.

Imagine the impact a similar program would have on our community and economy if it were created for all aspiring citizens. Obama has the legal authority to end the deportation madness that continues under his administration. With each passing moment, his moral responsibility to do right by American families increases as well.

Let’s be clear. We will never stop advocating for commonsense immigration reform that provides permanent solutions. But at this time, it is also evident that the current Congress lacks the leadership to do what is best for our country.

The time for political patience is over. Obama should recognize what many of us have long seen: that Republican leadership will continue its myopic strategy to stall on immigration reform, placating its anti-immigrant wing while leaving Latinos, Asian Americans, Africans, Caribbeans, and voters with precious little reason to support the GOP in the decades to come.

During his State of the Union this year, Obama stated that America didn’t stand still, and neither would he, promising to take whatever steps he could to “expand opportunities for American families.” He has made good on that promise on non-immigration issues.

Aspiring American families need the President to take that step for them now. The President should not keep waiting on the sidelines of history. The time for leadership and courage on immigration reform is now.

Marielena Hincapié is the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center

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