Finally, some immigration reform

President Barack Obama is doing what he should have done long ago. It has long been obvious that the recalcitrant leadership in the U.S House of Representatives, fearful of the power of conservative talk TV and radio and manipulated by the party's hard-right wing, would never allow any comprehensive immigration reform bill to pass.

This week, finally, President Obama used his executive power to protect a projected 5 million of the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants and provide a path, as he well put it, for them to "come out of the shadows."

The executive order provides protection to an estimated 4 million people who are in the United States illegally but who are the parents of children who are citizens or legally documented. They also must have been here at least five years and otherwise acted lawfully. Another 1 million will have protection from deportation through other parts of the executive order.

To gain this legal status - there is no path to citizenship under this plan - participants must pass background checks, pay taxes and will receive Social Security cards.

While aggressive, these moves fall within the executive branch's prosecutorial discretion. So too does the president's new emphasis on deporting recent arrivals, criminals and others who pose a security threat. In his speech to the nation, President Obama pledged improved U.S.-Mexico border security. Illegal border crossings are already at the lowest level since the 1970s, noted the president.

In a less controversial provision, President Obama promised to ease and reform eligibility requirements for obtaining and extending green cards, allowing more highly skilled and educated individuals to study and work in this nation if they desire.

This is a comprehensive move the president should have made long before the November elections. It could have fired up the Democratic base and improved Latino turnout. Instead, the president followed misinformed advice to stay clear of controversy, the result being a decisive Republican victory in congressional and gubernatorial elections.

Republicans in Washington responded to the president's speech with predictable foot stomping. House Speaker John A. Boehner declared, "the president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek." It will be tragic to see the bipartisan spirit the Republicans have displayed since this president took office start to slip.

You have to do better than that, Speaker Boehner.

Other Republican leaders rendered their garments over the "constitutional crisis" facing the nation, conveniently forgetful, it seems, that presidents have used executive authority many times to shape immigration policy, including a couple of guys named President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush.

There were threats by GOP congressmen to withhold funding. Unfortunately for them, the Citizenship and Immigration Services relies on revenues it generates through fees attached to immigration applications. Some even talked of impeachment, solidifying the image of segments of the party as unhinged.

Republicans may have just had a successful election cycle, but they are severely damaging their long-term prospects by allowing the Democrats to be the party in favor of immigration reform and casting themselves as the bulwark against it. Latinos are the fastest growing minority. President George W. Bush recognized the importance of embracing them, but many of today's Republicans don't get it.

The better avenue, of course, is comprehensive immigration reform. It can happen anytime Speaker Boehner would allow it to happen. Such a reform bill passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support. Most political observers agree that if brought to a vote in the House it would pass as well, with strong support from Democrats and enough support from Republicans.

Critics want to dismiss these undocumented immigrants as deadbeats seeking the government dole. In reality, up to 85 percent are working, one-third own homes. With legal status, they will move up career and economic ladders, create new businesses and drive economic growth. Sixty-one percent are in the prime consuming ages of 25-44, 54 percent have been here 10 years or longer.

For the good of these people, the good of the country and the future of their own political fortunes, Republicans should put their energy into immigration reform legislation, rather than fighting the president on this.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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POLL

Do you agree with Obama's executive order on immigration reform?

Absolutely not.

58%

An unqualified yes.

17%

I understand and support why Boehner and the Republicans responded negatively.

4%

I agree with Obama that the process to obtain a green card needs to be easier.

3%

No part of this executive order will stick unless it's a bipartisan effort.

2%

I'm happy for the millions of children who overnight received a more secure future.

6%

Something needs to be done, but I think we need to go back to the drawing board.

10%

Number of votes: 363

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