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Big Week Ahead for Immigration Reform From SOTU To Cambridge, Maryland

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Tonight, President Obama will deliver the State of the Union. Over the weekend, pundits and reporters obsessively speculated about what the President will say and how he will address key issues, like immigration reform. In a letter to supporters Dan Pfeiffer, Senior Advisor to the President, laid out the President’s 2014 meme:

In this year of action, the President will seek out as many opportunities as possible to work with Congress in a bipartisan way. But when American jobs and livelihoods depend on getting something done, he will not wait for Congress.

President Obama has a pen and he has a phone, and he will use them to take executive action and enlist every American — business owners and workers, mayors and state legislators, young people, veterans, and folks in communities from across the country — in the project to restore opportunity for all.

As it happens, there are a couple more things we think the President could do on immigration. If he’s going to use his pen, he should write an executive order to expand DACA to include families of DREAMers and others who have lived in the U.S. for years. If he’s going to use his phone, he should call new DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to tell him to stop deportations of people who are on the cusp of becoming legal through pending legislation.

By now, the President and his staff should know the damage these deportations are doing to undermine communities. His record-breaking deportations are tearing families apart. DREAMers, who fought so hard to get the President to act on DACA, have been the best advocates for expanding protections to their parents and families. This is personal for them. Tonight, there will be a number of DREAMers attending, including Cristian Avila (who will sit in the First Lady’s Box) and United We DREAM’s Lorella Praeli, the guest of Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).

Today, America’s Voice launched new website, The Human Cost of Inaction, which highlights the stories of families fighting to stay together under President Obama’s record number of deportations–nearly two million in five years. So, we won’t be counting the words the President utters about immigration tonight. We’re counting the number of deportations — and it continues to grow.

While most of DC is focused on what Obama says at the State of the Union, the biggest news on immigration will likely come later.  First, House Republican Conference Vice Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) will give the GOP “response” to the President’s speech.  McMorris Rodgers grew up on a farm and represents a farming community in Washington state.  Last year she pledged to make immigration reform a priority, but that didn’t happen.  Today, the United Farm Workers are holding a protest outside of her Walla Walla district office, demanding that she make good on this promise.  They and we will be watching her speech—and the Spanish-language response from reform supporter Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL)—to see what if anything they have to say on immigration.

But the main event will come later this week, when the House GOP holds its annual retreat from Wednesday through Friday in Cambridge, Maryland. That’s where we expect the House GOP’s “principles” for immigration reform to be unveiled.

The only permanent solution to the deportation crisis is passing reform legislation that includes a path to citizenship for aspiring Americans.  The Senate has already acted and passed broad immigration reform on a bipartisan basis.  The next move is up to the House.

Of course, putting principles down on paper is just a baby step, and the rest of the country is way out ahead of the House GOP on immigration reform.  But if these principles are a sign that the House GOP is moving away from Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III and Rep. Steve King and moving toward a centrist approach, then they will be significant.

The fact that the House Republicans are even discussing immigration marks a seismic change. Last year, the only vote House Republicans allowed on immigration was a vote to end DACA and deport DREAMers. But, the unrelenting pressure from the immigration activists combined with the growing political power of Latino, Asian and other immigrant voters has changed the dynamic. We’ve got a long way to go — but we’ll keep up the pressure.

We’ll be watching the State of the Union and the GOP responses. But, for immigration advocates, the bigger show is on Thursday in Cambridge, Maryland.