Halt deportation and pass KIDS Act as steps to immigration reform

The prospect of delivering a comprehensive immigration bill to President Obama’s desk this year is coming to a halt. With the political will waning, broad reform will have to wait until 2014 or beyond. The president and Congress, however, must still produce results this year. Executive action to stop deportations and the KIDS Act or DREAM-like bill can still pass as first steps to comprehensive immigration reform.   

Recently, two prominent Republicans closed the door on immigration for the year. And just yesterday, Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerSunday shows preview: Cruz pulls out all the stops ahead of Indiana Sanders-Warren ticket would sweep the nation GOP rep. on 'Lucifer' remark: Boehner has ‘said much, much worse’ MORE (R-Ohio) nailed the door by declaring the “House has no intention on going to conference on the Senate immigration bill”. 

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The apparent demise of comprehensive immigration reform has led Obama to step up his rhetoric on immigration: “The only way we can continue to place pressure to get that [immigration] bill done is by making sure that the other side ... understands there’s a price to pay when you don’t act.” While the president’s candidacy will no longer be scrutinized, his legacy is being shaped by the Latino electorate that cemented his re-election.  

Rather than place blame on Republicans, the president must lead and once again overcome GOP obstruction and act to stop the deportations to allow millions to come out of the shadows and contribute to the economy. The president is nearing a record two million deportations that has separated American families. 

No president wants this as a legacy. 

While critics may call such executive action unprecedented or unconstitutional, it simply isn’t: enforcement agencies have always possessed wide discretion to allot their resources as they see fit and, if they see that setting deportation records nearly every year is not in the agencies interest, the agency can scale them down. The U.S. Supreme Court and legal expects have upheld broad executive action on immigration.  

On the legislative front, passing piece meal bills may be the proper approach for the year unless Democrats and Republicans can garner enough votes to bring a comprehensive bill directly through the floor through a discharge petition. Nevertheless, with pressure building up from prominent conservatives to allow reform to come to a vote, the KIDS Act is becoming the GOP fallback position. The KIDS Act drafted by House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorRepublicans who vow to never back Trump NRCC upgrades 11 'Young Guns' candidates Cruz, Kasich join forces to stop Trump MORE (R-Va.) is a GOP alternative to the DREAM Act that would allow DREAMers to earn a path to citizenship through college or service in the military. “We ought to have the compassion to say these kids shouldn’t be kids without a country...” Leader Cantor said of his proposal to address the plight of DREAMers - or undocumented immigrants that came to the U.S. as children.

The proposal, while still only being discussed, however, can still be improved. Rep. Luis GutierrezLuis GutierrezRyan meets with Hispanic Caucus to talk Puerto Rico Report: Latino leaders plan Chicago protest against Trump Long lines keep casino workers from Nevada caucuses MORE (D-IL), an outspoken immigration advocate, has said, “[i] support the Kids Act if it is serious and the reform elements are good enough and doesn’t contain poison pills, like a prohibition on citizens sponsoring family members for legal immigration.”

The KIDS Act may possibly include a ban that would prohibit dreamers from petitioning their parents, even if they are citizens. While addressing the Tea Party’s misleading concern of “chain migration”, this effectively creates constitutional and political trouble.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that “no state shall… deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”  Once an immigrant is made a citizen, they are made full citizens with all the rights and responsibilities of every other citizen.  One of those rights is the right to apply for immigration status for one’s spouse or parent. The ban would give DREAMers fewer rights than other citizens, creating a second class of citizenship. 

Should it be included, the parental ban will join the memories of Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation”, Arizona’s paper-please law, passing a bill to deport DREAMers, a filibuster of the DREAM Act, Rep. Louie GohmertLouie GohmertGOP lawmaker threatens Target boycott over LGBT bathroom policy Republicans face off with protesters outside Supreme Court Republican: Obama, Trump use same tactics against critics MORE’s (R-Texas) “terror babies” theory, to Rep. Don YoungDon YoungCherry Blossom Princesses begin their annual reign Republicans raise legal questions ahead of Gitmo order House votes to speed up tribal energy projects MORE’s (R-Alaska) “wetback” remarks, to Rep. Steve King’s (R-Iowa) “Cantaloupe Calves” comment, just to name a few of the recent, high profile slights against Latinos by Republicans.  

House leadership has an opportunity to demonstrate not only that Republicans are not anti-immigrant but also that they can function and legislate. The Republican DREAM Act can reach the President’s desk just in time for Christmas. And the President can imprint firm leadership in the pages of history by halting deportations and keeping millions of families together. Because having a partial victory for our communities is not a defeat. It is a step by step approach that will take us closer to a comprehensive fix, while still protecting families in the process.

Vargas, J.D., is director of the DREAM Action Coalition and national activist for the DREAM Act. 

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