Republicans in the House of Representatives seem to be planning to ignore immigration reform this Congress, to the detriment of the country, Nevada, 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. The disconnect between Republicans’ rhetorical support for immigration reform and their actual legislative record is vast, and given the three month deadline for legislative action put forward yesterday by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), a problem of heightened urgency for the GOP.
With the vacuum left by House GOP leadership, Democrats in the House of Representatives are demanding action on immigration reform and using a variety of procedural tactics to try to force a vote on HR 15, the bipartisan immigration reform bill in the House. For House Republicans like Reps. Mark Amodei (NV-02) and Joe Heck (NV-03), the question is whether they will continue to stall and offer no legislative solutions of their own, or if they will finally step up and take action.
Pressure will be on pro-immigration House Republicans, particularly those in purple districts, to sign onto the discharge petition or convince their own leadership to offer up an alternative. The decision the House GOP makes in 2014 will not only have repercussions for the 2014 elections, but also the presidential and Senate battles in 2016.
Leaders of the pro-reform movement are confident that a big change in immigration policy will take place this year, and the question is whether House Republicans are a part of it. If they don’t act, they cede the initiative to the President, who is under tremendous fire from his “base” to stem the tide of deportations. 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 Nevada Republicans, 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? Simply saying the right things is not enough. The GOP needs an actual immigration accomplishment to take home to voters before the 2014 elections and certainly before the 2016 cycle. 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. It’s time for Reps. Amodei and Heck to exercise leadership and push the House Republican conference to act 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 hardline immigration stance had become suicidal. 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 Congress, the only immigration measures the full House has voted on were an amendment by anti-immigrant extremist Rep. Steve King (R-IA) to defund Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and subject DREAMers to deportation as well as two anti-immigrant bills voted on last week designed to strip President Obama’s executive authority to protect DREAMers and military spouses from deportation. Both of Nevada’s Republican House members voted in favor of each of these measures – not exactly a strong stance for a party desperate to improve its image on immigration and to Latino voters.
- Lessons for 2014 from the 2010 Cycle? In 2010, a year in which Republicans won big at every level, Nevada – along with Colorado and California – provided a “Latino firewall” for Democrats and helped them save the Senate. This was in large part due to the clear distinctions between the pro-reform stances of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who leaned into the issue during his campaign, and his anti-reform Republican challenger, Sharron Angle, whose hard-right views alienated and mobilized Latino voters. According to 2010 election eve polling of Latino voters in Nevada conducted by Latino Decisions, immigration was a major mobilizing issue: 88% of Nevada Latino voters said immigration was important with 38% saying it was “the most important” issue. To the surprise of many and contrary to many pre-election polls, Senator Reid beat hardliner Sharon Angle by a whopping 90%-8% amongst Latino voters. As Senator Reid himself, “I would not be the majority leader in the United States Senate today, but for the Hispanics in Nevada.” As Nevada’s population of eligible Latino voters continues to grow, similar dynamics could be at play for both Congressmen Amodei and Heck. While Rep. Heck has publically state his support for a path to citizenship and both have been supportive of moving reform forward, their actions stand to the contrary. Just recently, they voted in favor of two bills designed to strip the President’s executive authority and last year, they both voted to support extremist Rep. Steve King’s amendment to defund the DACA program and subject DREAMers to deportation. Additionally, October 2013 polling conducted by Magellan Strategies in both Congressmen’s districts show that their constituents are widely supportive of HR 15—72% support in Amodei’s district and 74% in Heck’s.
- 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 Nevada, by the 2016 elections, Latino voters will comprise 20 percent of the state’s eligible voting population with 101,100 more eligible voters than in 2012, according to a Center for American Progress report. The already difficult political path for Nevada Republicans currently 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 Nevada and across the country: The American public broadly and consistently backs immigration reform with a path to citizenship. In Nevada, a June 2013 poll sponsored by the Alliance for Citizenship, found that, in the words of Jon Ralston, “64% of those polled said they strongly or somewhat support bipartisan immigration reform legislation being debated in Washington” and that “71% of those polled said they strongly or somewhat support a bill that includes a tough but fair path to 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 Nevada congressional delegation. As this breakdown of district-specific polling in NV-02 (Amodei) and NV-03 (Heck) shows, even voters in the Republican sections of Nevada 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:
- President Obama has presided over a record-high number of deportations and is on track to reach the 2 million mark in the next several weeks. Hundreds of thousands of these immigrants would have qualified for legal status and citizenship under pending the legislation.
- 152,426 U.S. citizen children had parents who were deported in fiscal year 2012.
- Over 200,800 adults with U.S. citizen children were deported between July 1, 2010 and September 31, 2012, accounting for 23% of all deportations over that time period.
- 85% of undocumented Latinos have a U.S. citizen family member and 62% have U.S. born children.
- More than two-thirds of undocumented Latinos have lived in the U.S. for a decade or more.
- The U.S. government spends $18 billion a year on immigration enforcement, more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined
- The Border Patrol has doubled in recent years to a record high of 21,000 agents.
- Net unauthorized immigration into the U.S. is zero.
In Nevada, activists have been working tirelessly to ramp up the pressure on President Obama to roll back deportations. Just a few weeks ago, Rep. Steve Horsford (D-NV) and other congressmen, were inundated with devastating stories of deportations and detentions from local constituents. Among them was Bryan Rivera, who shared the harrowing account of how his abusive father “reported his mother to immigration enforcement because he chafed at child support demands,” per the Las Vegas Sun. Thanks to the efforts of Rep. Horsford, Bryan’s mother was released from immigrant detention and is now applying for an asylum visa. As Horsford explained, “When you live in the shadows the law cannot protect you, but it can be used against you…It can be used in some ways to blackmail you.”
The 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 Nevada Republicans
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. It’s now or never for Neavada Republicans like Reps. Mark Amodei (NV-02) and Joe Heck (NV-03). Either they show leadership on this issue by pressuring Republican leaders to address and pass immigration reform 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 cements its reputation as an anti-Hispanic, anti-Asian and anti-immigrant party for elections to come, while threatening their own political futures in 2014 and 2016.