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Costs & Consequences of Inaction on Immigration — Rep. Pearce 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, New Mexico, 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 Rep. Steve Pearce (NM-02) the question is whether they will continue to stall and offer small bore legislative solutions of their own, or if they will finally step up and take action.

Rep. Pearce has played a key role in sponsoring some smaller immigration related legislation dealing with both family unification as well as border patrol accountability.  While these are important components of immigration reform, Rep. Pearce has been an obstacle to passing legislation that would truly reform the system and has refused to endorse an earned path to citizenship for immigrants currently in the country.

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 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 Rep. Pearce, 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?

According to Pearce, all Republicans really need to do to win Latino is more outreach.  As he told his colleagues last year, “You just have to show up, all the time, everywhere…Most Republicans don’t bother. I do. I bother.”

But what Pearce fails to realize is that 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 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 Rep. Pearce 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 2008 Cycle?  In New Mexico’s 2008 race to fill Pete Domenici’s Senate seat, then U.S. Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Rep. Steve Pearce had divergent views on immigration, with Udall supporting comprehensive reform and Pearce advocating a crackdown on undocumented workers.  Pearce used immigration in a TV ad that said, “Raising taxes on middle-class families to pay for benefits for undocumented workers is just plain wrong.  How did you vote, Tom?” The ad was referencing Udall’s vote on H.R. 3963, which Pearce claimed enacted a $71 billion tax increase and let undocumented immigrants receive health care.  Udall denounced the ad as “an attempt from the Pearce campaign to mislead New Mexicans.”  Pearce’s “enforcement first” immigration views gained him little favor with New Mexican voters, and Udall won the race 61%-39%.  As New Mexico’s population of eligible Latino voters continues  to grow, similar dynamics could be at play for Rep. Pearce once again.  While Rep. Pearce has made some positive comments about moving reform forward, his actions stand to the contrary.  Just recent, he voted in favor of two bills designed to strip the President’s executive authority and last year, he voted to support extremist Rep. Steve King’s amendment to defund the DACA program and subject DREAMers to deportation.
  • 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 New Mexico, the population of eligible Latino voters is estimated to grow by 68.8% between 2012-2016, according to a Center for American Progress report. The already difficult political path for New Mexico 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 New Mexico and across the country: The American public broadly and consistently backs immigration reform with a path to citizenship.  In New Mexico, a November 2012 election-eve poll of Latino voters conducted by Latino Decisions, found that 53% of Latinos in New Mexico know someone who is undocumented and that 21% would be more likely to vote Republican if the GOP “took a leadership role in supporting comprehensive immigration reform, with an eventual pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and Republicans worked to ensure it would pass.”  Obama won the state by a 77-21% margin. 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 various Republicans as well. As this breakdown of district-specific polling shows, voters in the Republican sections 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 New Mexico, activists have been working tirelessly to ramp up the pressure on President Obama to roll back deportations.  Just last week,  one-hundred protesters gathered in Clovis, NM as a part of a national day of action to remind the Obama Administration of the painful reality of deportation.  As Somos Un Pueblo Unido Community Organizer Marina Pina told reporters, “We have seen an increase in deportations in our local community…Our families are very concerned. … families (are being) torn apart by a broken deportation system.”

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 Rep. Pearce

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 New Mexico Republicans like Rep. Steve Pearce (NM-02).  Either he shows leadership on this issue by pressuring Republican leaders to address and pass immigration reform or he cedes the initiative to President Obama and the Democrats.  If Republicans continue to block reform, Pearce will 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 futures in 2014 and 2016.