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Obstructing, denouncing, and demonizing Barack Obama are so central to the existence of the Republican Party today that its leaders simply ignore the real purposes of the president’s proposed immigration orders. So someone should point out that his imminent decision will advance priorities to which the Republican right offers routine lip service: promoting family values, assisting law enforcement, ensuring efficient government, and guarding national security.

Much of the argument for immigration reform, and in particular the president’s proposed executive orders, revolves around the imperative of compassion for immigrant families. That is a powerful claim — or should be, at least, for the self-styled Christians of the Republican right. If they aren’t moved by empathy for struggling, aspiring, hard-working people, however, then maybe they should just consider the practicalities.

America is not going to deport millions upon millions of Latino immigrants and their families to satisfy Tea Party prejudices, even if that were possible. Attempting to do so would be a gigantic waste of taxpayers’ money, an unwelcome burden on thousands of major employers, and an inhumane disgrace with international consequences, none of them good. It might or might not be “legal,” but it would surely be stupid.

Instead the Obama administration aims to relieve the terrible pressure on immigrant laborers and their children, and to direct resources where they will best accomplish national objectives, by deporting serious felons and other illegal entrants who may endanger security. By insisting on those broad yet clear distinctions, the president will protect the innocent and prosecute the not-so-innocent – exactly what he should be doing with the support of Congress.

Those wise objectives don’t interest the congressional majority, compared with the chance to rile their base by muttering threats against Obama. Just the other day, a tweet appeared under the name of Chuck Grassley, long among the dimmer members of the Senate, warning that the president is “flagrantly violating his oath” and “getting dangerously close to assuming a Nixonian posture.” For the Iowa Republican, that’s subtlety. In case you missed it, he was blustering about impeachment, and he isn’t alone.

Like so many of the familiar accusations against the president, complaints that his executive orders on immigration are “Nixonian” or “lawless” lack merit. Such orders are well within the recognized authority of his office, and considerably more conservative than the official conduct of some of his predecessors, such as George W. Bush – who issued about a hundred more executive orders than Obama has done so far.

With respect to constitutional principle, the camouflage favored by Obama’s antagonists, their flexibility is telling. The separation of powers only matters when they say so. They say nothing when the president uses executive orders to tighten immigration and deport more people than all his predecessors combined. Indeed, when the outcome pleases Republicans, then nobody needs to worry about executive overreach, let alone high crimes and misdemeanors.

Nor does a presidential executive order – even one granting “amnesty” to immigrant children – trouble the Republicans when a Republican president implements that kind of reform. When Presidents Ronald Reagan and then George H.W. Bush took action to keep immigrant families together during their respective administrations, refusing to wait for Congress to move, there was no barking from the likes of Grassley. (According to The Hill, the two GOP presidents made those adjustments following the passage of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which created a “path to citizenship” for about 3 million undocumented workers. It was signed by the sainted Reagan.)

Republicans in the Senate and House have rejected every legislative opportunity on immigration, including measures to strengthen border security. That’s because they prefer partisan confrontation – and that is what they will get. The consequences for their party promise to be politically devastating – and still worse if they are foolish enough to believe their own rhetoric about impeachment.

Photo: Supporters of immigration reform protest outside the White House on Nov. 7, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)

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