Vail Daily column: Presidents challenge do-nothing congresses |

Vail Daily column: Presidents challenge do-nothing congresses

Jack Van Ens
My View
Jack Van Ens

Often, gripers about others’ mistakes use bluster to cover their own faults. Sitting on hands, their whining stalls corrective action.

Who shouts the loudest?

House Republicans sound like a chorus of outrage on immigration but won’t repair broken policy. They treat immigration reform like flossing. Although necessary, both are easy to put off. House Republicans have walked away from a bipartisan Senate immigration bill, which has been on their legislative plates for months. Taking a long Christmas break is more appealing.

The GOP sticks with policy already in place for illegal border-crossers. Republicans demand more money to beef up border security. They desire to simplify procedures for highly educated immigrants who will give our economy a boost. But they slam the door on 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. Over 4 million are parents whose children, born in the U.S., are citizens.

House Republicans sound like a chorus of outrage on immigration but won’t repair broken policy.

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Republicans accuse President Obama of skirting the Constitution, moving unilaterally on immigration reform, and not respecting the House’s snailish legislative pace.

Why do Republicans intensify bellicose rhetoric against President Obama? The president insists that, under U.S. law, he follows presidential precedent to act unilaterally on sweeping immigration overhaul set by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Lacking constitutional approval, these presidents temporarily rescinded orders to deport immigrants and permitted them to work in the U.S.

When President Obama ran for office in 2008, he vowed to make immigration reform a priority. In 2012, he flashed a green light by admitting children raised here who, with their parents, crossed U.S. borders illegally. These so-called Dream Generation offspring weren’t deported. Now, the president wants to relieve parental immigrants’ anxiety of being deported and splitting them up from their offspring. The president has extended benefits to parents whose children make up the Dream Generation.

He offers practical improvements. Employing an energetic pace in order to stay ahead of the curve, the president demands immediate immigration policy reform. Lax House Republicans belly-ache that Obama runs an end-around Congress.

In this season of goodwill, our nation rehearses the story of an immigrant family who fled their native land because King Herod regarded Jesus as a threat to his power. The Holy Family found refuge in Egypt after Herod’s goons practiced genocide against young Jewish boys in order to exterminate Jesus.

Jesus traced his roots to Jewish immigrants who escaped Pharaoh’s harsh rule. He knew by heart Hebrew scripture, which teaches us to go easy on immigrants. “You shall not oppress an alien (immigrant); you know the heart of a stranger (immigrant), for you were strangers (immigrants) in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).

President Obama caught this Judeo-Christian hospitable spirit, mixing patriotic pride with down-home cordiality. “We’re not a nation that kicks out strivers and dreamers who want to earn their piece of the American Dream,” declared the president. “We didn’t raise the Statue of Liberty with her back to the world. We did it with her light shining.”

The Republicans’ obstructionist stance against presidential unilateral action isn’t a recent tactic. A century ago, the GOP denounced Republican President Theodore Roosevelt Jr. for preserving timberland, parks and national monuments. Republican economic predators wanted to exploit these lands to earn huge profits.

Roosevelt acted swiftly and forcefully. He didn’t wait for congressional approval. His unilateral conservation measures ignited a firestorm of rebuke. Republicans howled that Roosevelt ignored constitutional limitations on the presidency because only Congress had a hammerlock on park and land management.

TR charged ahead. We laud his presidency because Roosevelt set aside 18 national monuments and five national parks — each created by executive order or by stiff-arming Congress until they gave in. During a mere seven-year and 69-day presidency, Roosevelt preserved more than 234 million acres of American wilderness.

Railroads wanted to turn the Grand Canyon into a touristy theme park. Timber companies planned to level land around it. Mine owners expected to extricate precious metals and leave behind toxic tailings. TR stopped the rape of this national park.

Republicans retaliated, blasting Roosevelt for usurping their authority. Corporations spent millions smearing TR’s reputation, caricaturing him as a wolf that devoured unilateral power. They didn’t succeed in ruining the president’s reputation or exhausting his devotion to conservation. He condemned mercantile critics as Dickensian villains. TR unleashed quaint Victorian bombast, railing at Republicans full of “bosh and twaddle and vulgarity and untruth.”

President Obama shares TR’s righteous indignation. He musters courage to overhaul immigration, which is as vital to our nation now as was land preservation in the early 20th century. The Constitution allows for presidential prerogatives in these matters. Immigration reform deserves urgent remedy.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (, which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.

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