House GOP ignores immigration reform at its peril

This week, United We Dream leaders—both immigrant youth and our parents—flooded Capitol Hill offices to remind the House Republican caucus that their decision to block immigration reform this year is both politically foolhardy and deeply immoral.

Speaker Boehner said just a year ago that, “I think a comprehensive approach is long overdue. And I’m confident that the president, myself, others can find the common ground to take of this issue once and for all.”

Now, he’s backpedaled, refusing to bring up immigration reform legislation for a vote, even when a majority of the House supports the bill and it could easily pass.  His obstinate refusal to give us a vote only points to the extremism for which the House GOP has come to be known.

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With immigration reform, Speaker Boehner has the opportunity to do the right thing and put the GOP back on track to be a competitive national party.  But he looks determined to squander that opportunity, dashing the hopes of DREAMers and our families that Congress would reach a permanent solution before the end of 2013.

The House GOP can rest assured though—we aren’t going anywhere and we refuse to give up.  The immigrant youth movement was built by the courage and bravery of young people coming forward, declaring that they were “undocumented and unafraid” and refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer from the political powers that be.  Now Speaker Boehner is trying to force us, and our allies in this movement for immigrant justice, to accept his refusal to act and give up the fight.

We will not.  Immigration reform cannot and will not be so easily put off.  The House GOP can dig themselves deeper and deeper into an electoral hole, alienating Latino and immigrant community voters for generations to come. While undocumented youth haven’t yet won the right to vote and our path to citizenship, we are part of a community that is paying close attention to political developments and who’s at fault.  

As leading Spanish-language broadcast journalist Jorge Ramos recently said, “Speaker Boehner is killing immigration reform for this year. It's his call. Latinos will remember that at the polls.”  50,000 Latinos turn 18 and become eligible voters every single month and they’re increasingly solidly part of a progressive coalition of young voters, independents, and people of color.

Congress isn’t the only game in town and as DREAMers, we have also been at the forefront of the fight for relief from President Obama, urging him to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that protected us from deportation and gave us work permits.  There is no reason that President Obama shouldn’t similarly stop the deportations of our parents, who work hard and contribute to this country every day.  The Department of Homeland Security announcement last week that the Administration would halt the deportations of families of undocumented military service members is a welcome development but it doesn’t begin to go far enough.

Every day that the House GOP refuses to bring up immigration reform for a vote and President Obama insists on deporting 1,100 people to meet an artificial quota of 400,000 deportations per year, our families and communities live in fear and perpetual crisis.  Parents are scared to drop their kids off at school, teenagers look to their future unsure of whether higher education and their career aspirations will ever be within reach, adult children in the U.S. are unable to travel back to care for ailing parents or attend funerals for loved ones in their home countries.

If President Obama is committed to immigration reform, he should immediately stop deporting people who would eligible for legal status and a path to citizenship under legislation he has championed.  If Speaker Boehner wants to restore his party’s political future and be on the right side of history, he should immediately bring up HR-15, a bipartisan bill that while far from perfect, would be a significant step forward in improving our immigration system and giving 11 million undocumented Americans the chance to be fully recognized and protected from senseless abuses and the threat of deportation.  DREAMers are waiting and watching and we refuse to sit on the sidelines, now or in the future—the time is now for our families to finally be able to live free from the fear of deportation and we won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

Praeli is a DREAMer originally from Peru, and director of Advocacy and Policy at United We Dream.