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Immigration Reform: The Log In The Republican Eye

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Please note the following column was translated from Spanish to English and is available for reprint as long as the author is given proper credit. This column is available online in Spanish here.

I wonder if Republicans, especially Hispanic Republicans, who say they support immigration reform believe they can avoid the enormous responsibility of their party for hindering reform through legislation. They don’t cooperate in a bipartisan manner; and if legislation advances, like it did in 2013, they block it. Confronted with Republican legislative inaction, President Barack Obama issued immigration executive orders in 2014, which they branded as unconstitutional and froze in the courts.

I don’t remember how many times I have said that I agree that Obama, who promised comprehensive immigration reform as a presidential candidate, should have acted when he took office and the Democratic party controlled both chambers of Congress between January 2009 and January 2011.

But healthcare reform stole all of the oxygen, and sadly Obama’s Chief of Staff from January 2009 through October 2010, Rahm Emanuel, avoided the immigration issue, which he thought could be dangerous for some Democrats. That was wrong, and the subsequent elections proved it. To fearlessly address the immigration issue helps Democrats win elections. Period.

In 2013 there was a bipartisan effort in the Senate led by eight Senators: four Democrats and four Republicans, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a candidate for the Republican nomination, who now opposes the legislation he helped push, because the ultraconservative base and the Tea Party rioters have yet to forgive him.

The bill, S. 744, offered a path to legalization and eventual citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. It passed by a 68-32 vote with the support of the entire Democratic caucus and 14 Republicans in the Senate, which at the time had a Democratic majority.

And though it was imperfect, the bill offered an opportunity for negotiation with the Republican-led House of Representatives.

But what happened? The Republican leadership in the House, led by John Boehner (R-OH), blocked the issue. They listed a thousand excuses: that they should tackle border security first, that it should be split into parts. Every excuse prompted a response from Democrats and the White House.

In November 2014, following complete legislative inaction from House Republicans, Obama issued two executive actions: to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that he announced in 2012 after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act, and a new Deferred Action for Parents of U.S. Citizens and Legal Permanent Residents.

Republicans accuse Obama of abusing his executive power, of bypassing Congress, and say that he has “poisoned” the possibility of negotiating immigration reform through legislation. The same legislative reform that House Republicans blocked and never wanted to discuss.

If they didn’t want executive actions, then why didn’t they legislate? Because they prefer to add fuel to the fire of their anti-immigrant base.

Nobody is making excuses for Obama.

Yes, Obama broke his promise in the first years of his presidency, but when he tried to move reform in 2013, Republicans blocked it.

Yes, Obama has deported more than 2 million immigrants and that, sadly, will become part of his legacy. He thought the “iron fist” would attract Republican support that never came, because for those Republicans 2 million deportations wasn’t enough. They would like to deport all 11 million.

Yes, DACA and DAPA are temporary solutions,  but they are within his executive powers and can be attributed to Republican legislative inaction and paralysis. They have not even been implemented because of a lawsuit brought by Republican governors.

Yes, leadership is necessary, but to accuse Obama of a lack of leadership without seeing the proverbial log in the Republican eye and to not acknowledge the lack of respect that Republicans have shown for immigrant families, their U.S. citizen children, and Latino voters that are directly or indirectly touched by this issue, isn’t just cynicism, it’s hypocrisy and takes some nerve.

If not, take another look at Donald Trump’s speech announcing his intention to seek the Republican presidential nomination and remember that unfortunately, those prejudiced views regarding immigrants are shared by a good segment of the Republican party, the same that doesn’t look kindly upon those who are more moderate on the issue, like former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

We will see what prevails in the Republican fight for the nomination: common sense and a hunger to win, or hypocrisy and extremism.

But when Republicans point to those responsible for a lack of reform, they should have the courage to assume their rightful blame: remove the log from your own eye before removing the splinter from the eye of your brother.

Maribel Hastings is a Senior Advisor at America’s Voice.