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Tamar Jacoby: Executive order blocked by the court
February 22, 2015
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On Monday, a federal judge in Texas blocked President Obama’s latest executive actions on immigration. This is a short-term win for Republicans, who rightly believe the president lacked the authority to act unilaterally.

But it does nothing to change the underlying political dynamic — Republicans have won a battle, but they’re still at risk of losing the immigration war.

The contrast between Democrats and Republicans is stark and getting starker every day. A Democratic president is fighting to shield unauthorised immigrants from deportation.

If it weren’t for the court order, an additional 600,000 Dreamers who came to the US illegally as children could have applied for legal status starting Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress are headed into their sixth week trying to pass a measure that would pave the way for deporting not just the Dreamers, but all 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States.

It’s a contrast sure to haunt the GOP through November 2016 and beyond.

The irony, particularly bitter for Republicans, is that it’s not an accurate picture of the party. Most GOP representatives in Congress support relief for Dreamers, and many, perhaps most, support legal status for unauthorised immigrants.

But congressional Republicans are caught in a trap. They’re fighting for a policy most of them don’t believe in as a way, they think, to strike back at the president — but in the end are hurting themselves more than they could ever hurt Obama.

Ten years ago, when the GOP-controlled House of Representatives passed a draconian immigration enforcement bill named for Rep.

Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), most Republican lawmakers supported its provisions criminalising immigrants and opening the door to mass deportations. But the GOP has undergone a sea change since 2005: a slow, steady, bottom-up rethinking of the immigration issue.

Today, not just national figures like Jeb Bush but most rank-and-file Republicans in Congress understand the need for far-reaching immigration reform.

Last June, when reform advocates conducted an informal whip count, they found more than half of House Republicans prepared to vote for a path to legal status for some unauthorised immigrants.

So how did Republicans get trapped? Obama set the snare, but the GOP walked in of its own free will.

Obama surely knew that the immigration executive orders he issued in November would infuriate Republicans. He could have sent the same proposal up to Capitol Hill as a bill: legal status rather than citizenship for some but not all of those here illegally. It might just have passed if it had come up for a vote last year.

But that would have taken immigration off the table as a wedge issue, leveling the playing field between Republicans and Democrats.

So instead, the president acted unilaterally, knowing the GOP would see that as a brazen abuse of authority — a violation the party had to fight, no matter what the consequences. Republicans are right, as the Texas ruling confirms. But being right isn’t always enough in politics — you also have to win the war of perceptions.

Tribune News Service

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