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Obama’s Plan for Executive Order on Immigration Reflects Reality

The following was originally published as an op-ed in The Houston Chronicle.  Reprinted with permission.

Now that the election is over, political news has quickly become dominated by the impending immigration showdown between President Barack Obama and the Republicans on Capitol Hill.  In my opinion as an employer, the president's intent to use an executive order to extend legal status to millions of undocumented people in our country is simply misunderstood.  To the tea party, it is amnesty.  To the faith community, it represents compassion.  As a practical matter, it's just a reflection of reality.

Two years ago, in the face of congressional inaction, Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which has become commonly known as the administrative DREAM Act.  This gave foreign-born children who illegally entered the country before their 18th birthday an opportunity to seek legal status, granting them the right to work.  But it wasn't just given out like candy, as some suggest.  These young people who were brought here through no fault of their own had to pass a criminal background check, pay $485, and the whole process has to be repeated every two years.

These immigrants cannot vote or receive welfare.  They're not entitled to anything.  Just the opposite.  What they have now is a responsibility to prove they're determined to be productive members of our society by working for a living.  We already have a tremendous investment in these children who were educated in our public schools.  When we strip emotion from the debate, it's plain to see the president was exercising common sense when he used his executive authority.  I have no doubt Obama would have preferred that Congress pass comprehensive legislation, but it didn't happen before the November 4 election, and there is no reason to believe it will happen now.

I was fortunate to be asked to visit the White House a few weeks ago to meet with the president's advisers on immigration reform.  Employers like myself from all over America were there.  The first thing his staff said was that Obama would much rather have the House vote on the immigration bill passed with broad bipartisan support in the Senate about a year ago.  While not perfect, it is a good bill that would do the job.  But House Speaker John Boehner, hemmed in by the tea party wing of his caucus, has not allowed for a vote.  There is a working majority in the House that would pass it now, but there has not been a chance for lawmakers to stand up and be counted.

Immigrants who are in the country without documents should work and pay taxes like the rest of us.  Why would anyone who calls himself “conservative” be opposed to ensuring immigrants aren't given a free ride?  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimates an executive order extending DACA to the parents of children and young adults who qualify for the program could affect more than 5 million people.  It's not amnesty.  It is a sensible program aimed at identifying people and taxing them for working in the United States.  That's the kind of border security we need.

Many of these immigrants unlawfully in the U.S. have been in our country for decades.  They're an integral part of our society.  They cut our lawns, build our houses, care for our children, cook our food and more.  There are an estimated 600,000 undocumented immigrants in the greater Houston area.  That's an educated guess.  Who really knows how many there are?  We can start to figure out that number by identifying them under the program Obama is contemplating.

One day, Congress will have the courage to pass an immigration bill.  That would eliminate the need for an executive order.  Until that day comes, the president's plan is the most pragmatic way to begin to solve our immigration problem.

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