Is Immigration Reform Possible?

February 3, 2014 Updated: April 24, 2016

Immigration reform has been on the top of the list for Democrats and the president.  When the “gang of eight” last year was able to get a comprehensive immigration bill passed in the Senate, it seemed like this dream, no pun intended, could be achieved.  However, the bill has not gone to a vote in the House begging the question, is immigration reform is even possible?  Can hard-liners in the House be persuaded to fix the daunting problem of 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States?


Last week, Speaker of the House John Boehner announced at a Republican retreat that immigration reform is a possibility releasing a set of standards necessary for passage.  The most important Republican ideal associated with immigration is a commitment to border security.  President Obama is committed to getting an immigration bill passed through the Congress.  He has made several concessions such as supporting a piecemeal approach, which the House has announced they prefer to one comprehensive bill.  In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper last week, President Obama even stated he is open to the Republican approach, which avoids amnesty, a major deal breaker for many.  President Obama stated he would support a bill that does not include a path to citizenship provided the final bill does not split up families, a major ideal of the administration.

As always, there is a bulwark threatening success.  Florida Republican Marco Rubio, gang of eight member whose parents were Cuban immigrants, stated he does not believe immigration reform is possible because the president has lost “all credibility.”  Republicans believe the president cannot be trusted to enforce laws passed by Congress because in the past, he has changed the implementation of laws.  On Sunday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) stated on ABC’s This Week w George Stephanoploulos that the Republican approach is border security first, not amnesty.  He also seconded Rubio’s concerns that the president cannot be trusted to enforce the law based on the president’s record with enforcing and delaying the ACA as well as issuing executive orders regarding immigration.

Republicans, such as Ryan, believe the president does not have the authority to make these changes to laws because as Ryan stated on Sunday, it is Congress’ role to make laws.  The Constitution is explicit on the topic executive enforcement of laws.  Article II Section 3 of the Constitution states, “[the president] shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.”  However, the president does have leeway with what is called enforcement discretion – the ability to enforce certain provisions the way he wants.  Case in point, the Justice Department’s decision not to prosecute individuals in Colorado for buying marijuana, which is legal in Colorado but still outlawed by the federal government.  Ryan is absolutely correct that the Congress creates the laws, but the president and Executive Branch implements the laws.  Last week on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was asked about the failed roll out of the health care law.  Pelosi’s seemingly flippant reply that the roll out was not her responsibility is actually spot on.  It is Congress’ role to make sure the law is drafted, but it is the responsibility of the executive to “take care” that the law is implemented.  In many instances, the law is not always implemented the way Congress wrote the statute.  While the president is not immune from enforcing certain aspects of laws he disagrees with, he does have the discretion to enforce or implement it a particular way.

GOP lawmakers are also upset that the president has issued executive orders protecting certain families from deportation in an effort to remain committed to keeping families together.  Sighting skepticism for the potential implementation of legislation should not be reason to default on passing a bill.  While each party has key priories associated with immigration, it is important to have the debate.  Simply ignoring the problem is irresponsible.  Eleven million undocumented immigrants is a major concern and must be addressed.  Those is Congress must stop hiding from their personal opinions and using scapegoats to avoid passing an immigration bill.  A debate must be had and it is imperative for the future of unity in the United States.