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Costs & Consequences of Inaction on Immigration — California Republicans Should Know Better

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Republicans in the House of Representatives seem to be planning to ignore immigration reform this Congress, to the detriment of the country, California, and their own political interests. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and his fellow Republicans have offered weak excuses for their inaction, despite the fact that the votes exist to pass immigration reform in the House today if immigration reform was allowed a vote. But what Republicans appear to be ignoring is that by failing to act this year, they may well be losing their last chance in a generation to have a say in immigration policy and to reap the benefits with Latino voters.

As Republicans stall, advocates across the country are continuing to ramp up pressure on President Obama to act in the interim.  The steady pace of over 1,000 deportations every day has created a moral crisis in American families and communities that must be addressed.  This crisis has left the immigration reform movement no choice but to push for a solution this year, be it legislative or administrative.  If House Republicans continue to play politics and block immigration reform leading up to November, then the window of opportunity for floor action on immigration reform this year will close, and House Republicans will effectively cede the initiative to President Obama. The President will have no choice, but to use his “pen and phone” to take bold executive action on behalf of millions of undocumented immigrants who should be low priorities for deportation.  Recent history provides a template – in 2010 Republicans blocked the DREAM Act; in 2011 advocates and Capitol Hill allies pressured the President to take administrative action (including a notable moment at a NCLR conference); and in 2012 the President provided relief to more than a half million Dreamers through the DACA program.  This not only helped real people, it helped President Obama reap political rewards.

As captured in a recent editorial in the nation’s largest Spanish-language newspaper, La Opinión, rising pressure on President Obama to take executive action to “prevent the deportation of people with deep roots in this country” does not and should not detract from the simultaneous push to hold House Republicans accountable for blocking a permanent legislative solution.  As we have noted, there is little chance that immigration reform will be easier in 2015 for Republicans, despite the wishful thinking and recent comments of some.  The next time immigration reform has a serious chance of passage is on the other side of the 2016 elections – an election cycle in which the Republicans are risking an electoral tsunami if they block immigration reform this year.

The question for House Republicans, and especially Republicans in the California delegation, is whether they are willing to step up and be part of the solution, or will they sit back and watch Democrats expand their already huge margin among Latino, Asian, and immigrant voters to the Republicans’ 2016 and longer-term political peril?  California Republicans such as Reps. Jeff Denham (CA-10), David Valadao (CA-21), Devin Nunes (CA-22), Kevin McCarthy (CA-23), Buck McKeon (CA-25), and Darrell Issa (CA-49) are in a key position to help their Party make the right choice to address immigration reform this year.  Simply saying the right things is not enough.  They need an actual immigration accomplishment to take home to voters before the 2014 elections, or their Democratic opponents will be able to paint them with the same group as Republican leadership and make the strong sell for replacing them with a member of the opposing party.

But beyond the California delegation’s immediate political future looms the larger changes of the national GOP.  Failing to act on immigration this year makes it all the more likely that the issue will remain unresolved before the 2016 elections, jeopardizing the GOP’s chances of taking back the White House and winning key Senate seats.  The decision House Republicans make regarding immigration in 2014 will have huge ramification for the Party for elections to come.

Below, we offer a reminder of the costs and consequences of House Republican inaction on immigration reform. Of all the Republicans who should get the impact of these political calculations, it should be California Republicans.  It’s time for them to start pressuring House Republican leadership to hold a vote on immigration reform with a path to citizenship this year.

Political Consequences: Why Absence of Immigration Reform in 2014 Spells Political Disaster for GOP in 2016 and Beyond

After the 2012 elections, there was consensus that the Republican Party’s immigration stance has become suicidal.  As Republican strategist Ana Navarro put it, “Mitt Romney self-deported himself from the White House.” Yet some Republicans seem to have forgotten this lesson and are now counseling blocking reform and reinforcing their anti-immigrant brand image for another election cycle.  This means that the only immigration floor action that House Republicans will have taken this Congress is their vote in favor of anti-immigrant extremist Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) amendment to defund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and subject DREAMers to deportation.  It’s not exactly a strong stance for a party desperate to improve its image on immigration and to Latino voters.  Due to the political transformation of California in the two decades since Gov. Pete Wilson’s Proposition 187, California Republicans are in a unique position of having witnessed what could happen to the national Republican Party if they continued to mishandle immigration issues and alienate growing demographic groups of voters.

  • It’s now or never for the House GOP.  Some Republicans are justifying their current inaction and obstruction of reform by saying they’ll just delay reform until 2015 after they likely have more seats in Congress.  This is a pipe-dream.  First of all, the Senate has already passed a strong bipartisan bill, so the issue is teed up and ready for action by the House.  That bill expires at the end of the year, meaning Republicans would have to start all over and get the Senate to act yet again.  Not a done deal.  Secondly, if the House waits until 2015 to take up immigration, Ted Cruz has already made it clear that he expects the GOP presidential primary battle to highlight the party’s divisions and demagogue the issue just like they did in 2012.  As Senator John McCain (R-AZ) recently said, “To wait until 2015 when we’re involved in Republican primaries, obviously, would not be a viable scenario.”   Moreover, Democrats will have even less incentive to play ball with Republicans, making it that much less likely that reform can become law before 2016.  The predictable result of inaction in 2014?  The next time broad immigration reform has a serious chance of gaining traction is on the other side of the 2016 elections, after the Republicans have alienated yet another generation of Latino, Asian, and immigrant voters and lost yet another shot at national office.
  • At some point you have to wonder—when does the GOP reach the point of no return with Latino, Asian, and immigrant voters?   If Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans block reform this year, they will squander an historic opportunity to shape immigration reform policy and re-brand themselves among key (and rapidly growing) voting groups.  In addition to implications for the 2016 presidential race, Republicans will be defending 24 Senate seats in 2016 – seven in states carried by Obama – while Democrats need only to defend 10 seats.  Some experts are suggesting the possibility of a filibuster-proof majority for Senate Democrats.  And in an election year in which the voting population swells by a third – especially with Latino, Asian American, immigrant and youth voters – 2016 will present an opportunity for Democrats to take the House, too.

In California, by the 2016 elections, the state will have a majority-minority electorate for the first time, according to researchers at UC Davis.  By 2040, California is projected to gain 8.3 million new eligible voters – 8 million of which will be non-white voters.  The already difficult political path for California Republicans may be all the more impassible if the GOP cements its anti-immigrant brand image by blocking reform.

  • There’s broad support for immigration reform—both in California and across the country: The American public broadly and consistently backs immigration reform with a path to citizenship.  In California, a March 2013 USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found that, in the words of Maeve Reston of the Times, “Only 19% of California voters in a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll said those in the country illegally should be required to leave the United States.  About two-thirds of survey respondents said illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay with eventual citizenship rights.  An additional 10% said they should be permitted to remain in this country to work but should not be allowed to apply for citizenship.”  The broad support for tackling immigration reform, including a path to legal status and citizenship for undocumented immigrants, also extends to specific congressional districts of the Republicans in the California congressional delegation.  As this breakdown of district-specific polling in CA-10 (Denham); CA-21 (Valadao); CA-22 (Nunes); CA-23 (McCarthy); CA-25 (McKeon); CA-31 (Miller); and CA-49 (Issa) shows, even voters in the Republican sections of California are overwhelmingly in favor of immigration reform.                 

Policy & Moral Consequences: Squandered Economic Benefits & the Human Toll of Legislative Inaction

Every day the House delays a vote on immigration reform, over 1,000 people in America are deported, leaving thousands more citizen children, spouses, and other relatives behind.  While House Republicans continue to complain that President Obama is not enforcing the law, the truth is that immigrant families are getting ripped apart at an unprecedented rate under this Administration’s harsh enforcement policies.  Enforcement-only has been the default immigration strategy of the United States for over two decades.  If we are serious about modernizing the system so that it serves our nation’s interests and reflects our values, enforcement needs to be coupled with a path to citizenship and legal immigration reforms.  Further, a series of existing roadblocks and barriers in our current immigration system, are both keeping immigrants in an permanent undocumented status and tearing American families apart (see America’s Voice’s fact sheet on some of the restrictions that prevent immigrants from “getting legal” and the devastating impact on American families). Our country continues to spend an outrageous amount of money enforcing bad laws against good people – here are the facts:

In California, activists have been working tirelessly to ramp up the pressure on President Obama to roll back deportations.  On President’s Day, a few thousand local immigration advocates alongside family members and children impacted by deportation, held a protest in downtown Los Angeles, calling on the Administration to stop ripping families apart.  As Mario Vargas, teenager whose father was deported, said, “I would never wish anyone to be in my situation because it is very painful and emotional…Right now my dad has been deported and I have not seen him in two years. I am living through my teens right now and that is when I need him.”

This enforcement-only approach is not just morally objectionable, but it also squanders the potential economic benefits that immigrants provide to our country and our national bottom line.  In economic terms, immigration reform is poised to help grow the economy, reduce the deficit, bolster job creation, and strengthen the viability of Social Security and Medicare (according to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the Senate immigration bill).  Immigration is the rare policy issue that the Chamber of Commerce and the American labor movement both support addressing.  The agriculture industry also has a compelling need for immigration reform – a recent study from the American Farm Bureau highlighted the need for reform’s passage and noted that shifting further toward an enforcement-only approach would result in lower agricultural production and a spike in food prices for American consumers.

It’s Now or Never for the Republicans – As the California Delegation Should Know

While House Republicans stall on immigration, the Republican brand among Latino voters is getting worse by the day and millions of American families are getting ripped apart by broken immigration laws.  California Republicans should know better than anyone what association with anti-immigration, anti-Latino policies can do to a Party’s political prospects, as they are still reeling from the effects of Pete Wilson and the 1994 ballot initiative Proposition 187.   It’s now or never for California Republicans like Reps. Jeff Denham (CA-10), David Valadao (CA-21), Devin Nunes (CA-22), Kevin McCarthy (CA-23), Buck McKeon (CA-25), Gary Miller (CA-31), and Darrell Issa (CA-49).  Either they show leadership on this issue by pressuring their leadership to address and pass immigration reform this year; or they cede the initiative to President Obama and the Democrats.  If they continue to block reform, these Members will be doing their part to ensure that the national Republican Party follows the California GOP’s downward trajectory and cements its reputation as an anti-Hispanic, anti-Asian and anti-immigrant party for elections to come.