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Immigration Reform: Still Alive and Kicking, Despite Efforts to Kill It

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johnson carterView the original column in Spanish at Univision.

For many politicians, it’s very tempting to keep the issue around as a political football

So, the bipartisan immigration bill developed by the now-extinct Gang of Seven in the House of Representatives will never see the light of day. But why would the dissolution of the Gang mean the end of immigration reform? Honestly, even before last week very few people seriously believed that the group would finally produce their extremely-long-gestating bill. In fact, in certain circles, people were placing bets on its fate—not only on whether it would collapse entirely, but, after the departure of Republican Raul Labrador of Idaho (which turned the Gang of Eight into the Gang of Seven), on who would be the next to abandon ship.

On Friday, we found out: two Republicans from Texas, John Carter and Sam Johnson, justified their exits by offering one of the most absurd excuses yet.

Immigration reform, according to Carter and Johnson, is dead because of health-care reform. Specifically, since President Obama decided to delay the implementation of one of the major provisions of Obamacare (which Republicans have been trying to defund anyway), Carter and Johnson are doing what any child on the playground would do: taking their ball and going home. They refuse to pass any immigration bill to the President to sign, because they claim he can’t be trusted to enforce any laws at all.

“The administration’s practice of hand-picking what parts of laws they wish to enforce has irrevocably damaged our efforts of fixing our broken immigration system….  It would be gravely irresponsible to further empower this administration by granting them additional authority or discretion with a new immigration system,” the congressmen wrote Friday.

A vicious cycle

Look. Republicans are accusing Obama of acting unilaterally and even unconstitutionally. They did the same thing when the Administration granted deferred action to DREAMers after Republicans refused to support the DREAM Act. In other words, they attack Obama for acting administratively, but they won’t advance legislation that could eliminate the need for administrative action. It’s the politician’s vicious cycle: complain about the problem, do nothing to resolve it, and continue to exploit it as a political issue.

The dissolution of the Gang of Seven is another example of legislators shirking their responsibilities, demonstrating anew how dysfunctional Congress has become.

And, yes, it’s another obstacle for immigration reform. But it’s not the end of the road.

First of all, there are still members of Congress in both parties who can rescue the process—if they have the support of their parties’ leadership, especially the Republican leadership that controls the agenda and determines what comes to the floor.

And in any event, the dissolution of the Gang of Seven means the masks are off and the negotiation is out in the open. Now, if they want, Democrats can move their own bill as ammunition to pressure Republican leadership to come to the table.

A serious alternative

The bill passed by the Senate in June should be considered a serious alternative. There are the votes in the House to approve the Senate bill with a simple majority of 218 votes. There are some 195 Democratic votes in favor of immigration reform with a path to citizenship, and more than 20 Republicans support that in principle as well. Some are in safe Republican districts that are slowly experiencing demographic change—or the Congressmen simply know that they have to look beyond the borders of their own districts to allow their party to compete effectively with Democrats for the White House.

Two House committees have passed a total of five immigration bills. Almost all of them are punitive enforcement measures, and none address the 11 million undocumented. The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte, has assured the public that there are more bills coming and that of those already approved by the committee, some will be ready to come to the House floor soon.

The bills not yet introduced present opportunities to negotiate, and to pressure Republicans to address the elephant in the room: what to do with 11 million undocumented immigrants.

The community and pro-immigrant groups must keep the heat on Congress in this respect. They must continue to pressure for legalization with a path to citizenship which will actually solve the problem, not leave it half-finished.

And while there are upcoming opportunities, there are dangers as well.

Running out of time

With a packed calendar, and with midterm elections coming up, it will be very tempting for many politicians to continue to use immigration as a political football: Republicans want it as a stalking horse for their (ever-shrinking) conservative base and to continue to deny Obama legislative victories; Democrats want to blame Republicans for inaction in hopes of winning back a House majority.

But in the midst of all the political calculation, no one should be able to lose sight of the fact that human lives depend on access to a single document that could end the separation of families, the rupture of dreams, and the daily uncertainty and peril. Nor should they be able to forget that reform has the support of Latino and non-Latino voters alike; and that next year, when they go to the polls, they will make their own political calculations: as to who was part of the solution and who was part of the problem.

We can’t let down our guard. The dissolution of the Gang of Seven hasn’t killed reform—but it generates more excuses for those who already want to see it dead.