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Costs & Consequences of Inaction on Immigration — Rep. Paul Ryan Risks His Own and the GOP’s Future

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Republicans in the House of Representatives seem to be planning to run out the clock on immigration reform this Congress, to the detriment of the country, Wisconsin, 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 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 Rep. Paul Ryan (WI-01) the question is whether they will continue to stall and or if they will finally step up and force action from House Leadership, who is letting the party extremists call the shots on immigration.

Rep. Paul Ryan has said positive things about moving reform forward, telling the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that “it’s not a question of ‘if’ we fix our broken immigration laws…It’s really a question of ‘when’” and that “we understand the value of immigration…We know its importance; we know its roots, its history here in America; and we have ideas on how to make this go forward and make it work so that we do have the rule of law, so that we do have reform, so that we’re not in the same position 15 years down the road.”

While Rep. Ryan is right to highlight the urgency behind passing reform, he’s failed to take any action towards pushing reform through the finish line this year.

Leaders of the pro-reform movement are confident that a big change in immigration policy will take place this year. The question is whether House Republicans will be a part of it.  If they don’t act, they cede the initiative to the President, who is under tremendous pressure 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 an 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 Rep. Ryan, is whether they will step up and be part of the solution, or 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?  This should be of particular concern for Rep. Paul Ryan, who is widely expected to compete for the Republican nomination in 2016.

As Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) said to National Journal’s Fawn Johnson, “My theory is that we can win in 2014 without resolving it.  We can’t win in 2016 without resolving it.”

Simply saying the right things and appearing at the right events is not enough.  The GOP needs an actual immigration accomplishment to take home to voters before the 2016 cycle or risk 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 Rep. Ryan 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.  Rep. Ryan 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.

  • 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) 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.
  • There’s broad support for immigration reform—both in Wisconsin and across the country: The American public broadly and consistently backs immigration reform with a path to citizenship.  In Wisconsin, a November 2013 poll sponsored by the Partnership for a New American Economy and conducted by Harper Polling found that 74% of Wisconsin voters support a bill similar to the Senate immigration bill and 74% also support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. as long as they “pay a penalty, learn English, pass a criminal background check, pay taxes and wait a minimum of thirteen years.”  Moreover, 49% of voters said that they’d be more likely to vote for an elected official who votes for immigration reform.  As this breakdown of district-specific polling shows, voters in Republican districts are overwhelmingly in favor of immigration reform as well. 

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 Wisconsin, activists have been working tirelessly to ramp up the pressure on President Obama to roll back deportations.  Last week, pro-reform advocates held a march to the Milwaukee County Courthouse “to call on the president to issue an executive action on deportation relief and to announce a campaign to hold Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke responsible for separating immigrant families,” per reporting from the Wisconsin Gazette.  As Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera—the group that organized the action—said, “Our families cannot wait another day….Given Republican obstructionism in the House to move legalization forward, the president can and must use his executive authority to stop the suffering now — as he has done for passage of living wage and deferred action for immigrant youth. He can also shut down costly enforcement programs such as Wisconsin’s so-called ‘secure communities’ and grant legal status for those who would qualify for immigration reform.”

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.  Moreover, it is the height of hypocrisy for Rep. Ryan who’s staked his reputing on being “fiscally responsible,” to simultaneously allow House Leadership to block reform.  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 Rep. Ryan

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 GOP Party Leaders like Rep. Paul Ryan (WI-01).  Either he shows leadership on this issue by pressuring Republican House Leadership to address and pass immigration reform or he cedes the initiative to President Obama and the Democrats.  If Republicans continue to block reform and Ryan does nothing to stop them, he will effectively be doing his 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 his own political future in 2016 and beyond.