Obama puts politics ahead of country in latest immigration overhaul delay

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Editor's note: Michael Sean Winters is on vacation this week. Filling in for him are various writers from Millennial, a journal featuring the writing of millennial Catholics. Winters will be back next week.

President Barack Obama's decision to once again delay executive action on immigration reform is deeply frustrating. In his Sunday interview with NBC's Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press," the president admitted that political calculus caused him to reverse his June 30 decision to act on immigration reform before summer's end.

During that June 30 announcement, the president said that the White House would no longer wait on House Republicans to act on immigration reform and would instead begin implementing policy solutions "without further delay."

"The point of public service," the president said that afternoon, "is to solve public problems."

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Sadly, politics -- and not the highest ideals of public service -- motivated Obama to delay implementing the needed executive fixes to our immoral and broken immigration system. The White House hopes that by delaying action, it can help vulnerable incumbent Senate Democrats in the South win re-election in November, including Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, and Mark Pryor in Arkansas.

But by joining Speaker John Boehner and the House Republicans in putting politics ahead of needed solutions to this national moral crisis, the president has missed a critical opportunity to "solve public problems" and to bring relief to millions of aspiring immigrants seeking a home and a future in the United States.

No one denies that the politics behind comprehensive immigration reform is difficult, and few deny that the House Republicans have been less than helpful in moving the process forward. But Obama still had the rare chance last week of practicing political heroics by risking his party's chances in November for the sake of our nation's future.

Amid all this balking, we must ask: Where is the courage in Washington? Where are our brave elected leaders who are willing to risk their political fortunes? Who is going to stand against the pollsters and pundits and stand up for what's right?

For an example of what moral leadership on immigration reform looks like, Obama and our elected officials should look to the U.S. Catholic bishops. Despite tremendous pressure from critics in and out of the church, the bishops haven't wavered on defending the rights of aspiring American immigrants. In 2014, the bishops have already celebrated the Eucharist at the U.S.-Mexico border and visited lawmakers on Capitol Hill to lift up the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

At the border, Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley and his brother bishops didn't mince their words.

"We can no longer tolerate the suffering caused by a broken system," O'Malley said. "The suffering and death must end."

O'Malley went so far as to say that immigration reform is "another pro-life issue" for the Catholic church, suggesting that it is as serious and grave as any other social issue the church encounters.

Three months later, in July, the president visited Texas for three fundraisers but inexplicably refused to go a few hundred miles south to visit the border.

This is unacceptable. The president of the United States must encounter the suffering of people at our borders without delay. This is where our national scandal of sin, pain, injustice and ignorance dwells, and this is where he belongs.

In the words of Pope Francis, we must "beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor." We should pray that our president has the courage to act, even if it hurts his party in November. He was twice elected to act on his beliefs and to deliver on his promises. It's not too late to do so. We should also pray that Boehner has the strength to reject the political agenda of a fringe element of his party and bring immigration reform to the floor during the December lame-duck session.

We must pray until our leaders agree with the large majority of the American people that the nation's immigration system is broken and hurts our people, our economy, our security and our future.

Catholics must rise up with the entire church and let our elected officials know that we aren't going anywhere until the job is done and we have an immigration system that gives people the dignity of a name, a face and a future.

[Christopher Hale is a co-founder of Millennial and a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He helped lead national Catholic outreach for President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign.]


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