Obama goes it alone


President Barack Obama’s declaration that he will enact immigration reform by executive order has generated much comment, including near universal approval from Jewish groups. According to the administration and Democrats on Capitol Hill, the president made his move because the House of Representatives has refused to take up immigration reform, specifically the version of a bipartisan bill passed by the Senate in 2013.

Government inaction on a problem that has left in legal limbo millions of undocumented people who nevertheless work, pay taxes and raise children here has angered and frustrated many Americans, including many within the Jewish community. Last summer’s influx of children who crossed the border and turned themselves in to authorities was a reminder that immigration is a continental and human-rights problem, not just a matter of better patrolling ever-hardening borders.

Clearly, something has to be done. But while the White House’s go-it-alone, Congress-be-damned approach is energizing Democratic bases around the country, it is also generating tension, confrontation and uncertainty. Any executive action taken now can easily be reversed by Obama’s successor – who will take the oath of office in little more than two years; and taking potshots at a divided Congress for political gain has infuriated Republicans who will control both legislative chambers come January.

Much of the Jewish community’s past and current gains in American political life, as well as its future vis-a-vis such issues as civil rights and economic and military ties to Israel, depends on legislative achievements enshrined as law, not regulations promulgated by executive fiat. While securing momentary political gain on pet social justice issues is tempting, we should be supporting bipartisan work that involves both the executive and legislative branches. That’s a better solution in the long term, for immigrants and for the Jewish community.

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