President Obama Should Go Big on Immigration Reform

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 17: Family members reunite through bars and mesh of the U.S.-Mexico border fence at Friendship Park
SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 17: Family members reunite through bars and mesh of the U.S.-Mexico border fence at Friendship Park on November 17, 2013 in San Diego, California. The U.S. Border Patrol allows people on the American side to visit with friends and family through the fence on weekends, although under supervision from Border Patrol agents. Access to the fence from the Tijuana, Mexico side is 24/7. Deportation and the separation of families is a major theme in the immigration reform debate. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

On Monday, President Obama went big by signing a loophole-free executive order to protect employees of federal contractors and the federal government from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In the face of inaction by Congress, he demonstrated the will and authority to use his executive powers to help solve our nation's challenges. He should tackle immigration with equal fervor.

Just as in the case of employment discrimination, the Senate has passed bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation but the House has refused to act. It is long past time to stop the deportation of those who would be eligible for citizenship under the Senate bill. President Obama now needs to go big on immigration so aspiring Americans can live and work without fear.

The unfolding humanitarian crisis on the border further highlights the urgent need to fix our broken immigration system and create a clear and fair path to citizenship. Yet some Congressional Republicans are using the plight of immigrant families to call for even stricter enforcement policies. It's shameful.

The two issues are separate. The influx of young people across the border is the result of a 2008 law that gave immigrant children from certain countries the opportunity to seek asylum before being deported. Congress should provide the Obama Administration the necessary resources to protect these children and ensure they receive due process. But that is not a substitute for dealing with the 11 million undocumented immigrants who were here long before anyone was talking about unaccompanied minors.

UFCW members have fought long and hard for immigration reform. We have lobbied our members of Congress, spoken out at town hall meetings, signed petitions and post cards, attended rallies, and participated in civil disobedience. We have seen the wreckage of our broken immigration system firsthand -- from the raided meatpacking plants to the worker who live in fear of deportation to the husband kept apart from his wife and children.

The UFCW is part of a national movement that has led the way in changing the narrative. At this point in time, an overwhelming majority of Americans support comprehensive immigration reform, including most Republicans. A broad coalition of leaders and groups are now calling for fair, just, and humane immigration reform.

Yet opponents are going to try every excuse in the book -- including the current situation on the border -- to undermine, delay, or derail immigration reform. We cannot let them. It has been over a year since the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform and families are still being torn apart. Over a year has passed and aspiring Americans are still living in the shadows. Over a year has passed and immigrant workers are still vulnerable to exploitation. Enough is enough. The men and women being harmed by our broken immigration system are Americans in every way but on paper. If Congress will not act, President Obama must.