President Barack Obama's frustration with Congress' failure to address immigration reform is understandable, and his only alternative in the face of Republican opposition is to do what he can alone. With tens of thousands of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border, and virtually no chance that House Republicans will allow a vote this year on a comprehensive immigration bill, the president has to act to address this humanitarian crisis.
Obama was right that the nation can no longer continue to wait for Republicans to get past another election. Though House Speaker John Boehner blasted the president for not working with Congress, House leaders have only themselves to blame for not putting a viable bill to an up-or-down vote. The bipartisan comprehensive bill the Senate approved in June 2013 would have reformed the broken system in an orderly way. It would have provided billions of dollars in additional border security, tools for attracting foreign labor to meet America's workforce needs and a lengthy path to citizenship to bring the 12 million illegal immigrants already here into American society.
Obama offered no specifics Monday about how he would proceed, declaring only that he would act by late summer. He announced that federal officials would shift some assets of the border and immigration system from the interior to the south. That's a practical step that should improve conditions for thousands of children who have made the dangerous journey and are being held in cramped detention facilities. It should also help overburdened border states such as Texas and Arizona that are bearing the brunt of this challenge to public health and safety.
Congress should approve Obama's request for $2 billion in emergency aid to deal with the border crisis as unaccompanied children continue to stream in from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The total could reach 92,000 children this year, which would further burden an overtaxed enforcement system. The administration needs to move on the diplomatic front to address the poverty, violence and political volatility across Central America that feeds the exodus. And it needs to make clear to parents in Central America and elsewhere that the United States will maintain its borders and that there is no free pass for children who arrive alone at the border.
The lack of a comprehensive immigration strategy sends a mixed message overseas and forces the administration to deal ad hoc with enforcement and hardship cases. Confronting reality is still better than pretending that the border is impregnable, or that states can do Washington's job alone, or that children are not at risk. But a meaningful fix for immigration still will require congressional action — and for that, Republicans need to demonstrate they are as interested in governing as they are in campaigning and attacking the administration.