Until now, President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner seemed to be tiptoeing around their differences just enough to keep alive hope that they could reach agreement. In late January, Boehner issued a set of House GOP principles for reform, although the tea party said he was supporting amnesty.
But last week, Washington seemed to swing rapidly from governing mode to campaign mode. That makes compromise essentially impossible.
The House took the first shot of the renewed conflict Wednesday by voting to make it easier for members of Congress to sue the White House for failing to enforce current law. This is a slap at Obama's 2012 decision to allow "Dreamers" people brought to the country illegally as children to remain here under certain circumstances.
It's telling that the first immigration-related legislation passed in the House this year would make things more difficult for the undocumented.
The bill won't pass the Senate. It was a message to Republican voters, as the midterm election nears, that the GOP will halt Obama's tyrannical rule.
Then Obama made his own political maneuver.
Under pressure from immigration activists to reduce the skyrocketing number of deportations, Obama has been saying for months that there is little he can do without congressional action. But on Thursday he ordered the Department of Homeland Security to re-examine its practices to see if they could be more humane.
In truth, there is little the administration can do within the current law. But Obama has his own voters to please this fall, so he has to do something.
There are at least two areas where he should act:
• Homeland Security should stop deporting the parents of young people now allowed to stay here under the Dream Act. This will avoid splitting families.
• He should ensure that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is following the guidelines of a 2011 memorandum requiring prosecutors to focus their limited resources on the deportation of serious felons, gang members and the like. Given that nearly 2 million people have been deported since 2009, it's clear that the agency still is casting a much wider net.
Obama was believed to be staying mum on these matters in hopes of achieving real reform. Now that the GOP has made it clear it's not interested, there's nothing to be lost and everything to gain by making immigration enforcement more rational and humane.