The anti-immigrant freshmen come to Washington

Over the past two weeks, Congressional Republican leaders have been rattling their sabers about the prospect of President Obama using his authority to keep immigration families together. An important part of their argument is that administrative relief will undermine legislation. 

The problem is: these candidates have it wrong. Administrative relief is a step toward fixing our outdated immigration laws and legislation is the necessary completion. And, the Republican Party has zero credibility on immigration.  After seventeen months of failing to allow a vote on immigration reform in the Republican-led House — after it overwhelmingly passed in the Senate — there’s no evidence of the party’s appetite for a comprehensive solution. And, more worryingly, the GOP seems to have elevated a new class of “rising stars” who have used anti-immigrant rhetoric to ride a conservative wave into Washington. 

{mosads}Around the country, House and Senate candidates took a hard right turn to gin up enthusiasm among conservative voters, and the party’s leadership then opted to celebrate their victories. 

A few examples may help. During this campaign season:

In North Carolina, successful House candidate Mark Walker (R) opened the door to invading Mexico to reduce current immigration flows, a proposal that is as offensive as it is impractical.

In Georgia, Rep.-elect Barry Loudermilk (R) ran on his record of promoting anti-immigrant legislation in the State Senate, an unfortunate demonstration that some Republicans are still hewing to a state-by-state restrictionist strategy of passing laws that courts have struck down time and again from Arizona to Alabama.

And this was not just a southern phenomenon. Even in our largely progressive home state of New York, Rep.-elect  Lee Zeldin (R) harshly criticized incumbent Tim Bishop (D) for supporting comprehensive immigration reform and, at one debate, flatly said, “I do support deportations.” This strategically, while electorally successful, mirrored the broader anti-immigrant campaign platform launched by the New York State Republican Committee, including mailers and ads that relied on racist imagery of immigrants jumping over fences and “No Trespassing” signs.

These are just a few of the many freshmen Republicans coming to Washington for the 2015-2016 session who give no reason for hope that the GOP will come to its senses on immigration reform. 

Meanwhile, back in Washington this summer, the only immigration bill that House Republicans’ (already-elected) leadership pushed through was a vote to de-fund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that protected hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth (DREAMers) from being separated from their families.

In the absence of a willing partner to his right, President Obama must take action to address a broken immigration system that has separated hundreds of thousands of families each year, stifled investment in our country, and kept apart families due to a massive visa processing backlog.

Nothing about presidential action precludes bipartisan legislation. In fact, it should be a prelude to a bigger compromise that fixes our nation’s broken immigration system once and for all and includes a path to citizenship for eleven million undocumented immigrants that American voters overwhelmingly support.

Obama should act swiftly and boldly to keep as many families as possible together. Now.

Valdés and Altschuler are, respectively, co-executive director and managing director of the Make the Road Action Fund.

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