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Costs & Consequences of Inaction on Immigration — Why Washington State Republicans Need to Turn Their Words into Action

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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, Washington state, 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 a majority in the House supports moving reform with a pathway to citizenship forward.

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 GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) and Rep. Dave Reichert (WA-08), 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 Washington state 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.

Below, we offer a reminder of the costs and consequences of House Republican inaction on immigration reform.  It’s time for Reps. McMorris Rodgers and Reichert 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 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.

  • 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.
  • There’s broad support for immigration reform—both in Washington state and across the country: The American public broadly and consistently backs immigration reform with a path to citizenship.  In Washington state, a September 2013 poll sponsored by KCTS-TV, found that in the words of Joel Connelly of Seattle PI, “Nearly three-quarters of Washingtonians say undocumented immigrants should be given a ‘path to citizenship’ with the criteria of having a job, paying back taxes and learning English…The poll asked whether people agreed with the statement:  “A more diverse workforce will help our state’s economy grow.”  They agreed by a 59-30 percent margin.”

Economic Consequences: How Economic Benefits of Reform are Being Squandered & Why Washington’s Farmers Need Reform Now

It is the height of hypocrisy for Republicans, like McMorris Rodgers and Reichert, who claim to be “fiscally responsible,” to simultaneously 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 a recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis, HR 15 would reduce the deficit by $900 billion over 20 years.

Washington state’s agriculture industry has a particularly compelling case for immigration reform.  As a recent study from the American Farm Bureau highlighted, shifting further toward an enforcement-only approach would result in lower agricultural production and a spike in food prices for American consumers across the country.  Washington state farmers would take a particularly hard hit.  As the report notes, several crops central to Washington state’s economy have lost significant market share due to an unstable and shrinking workforce in the wake of increasingly restrictionist-style, enforcement-only laws. According to the report, “In 2010, 10 percent of Washington’s asparagus crop was lost because there weren’t enough workers to cut it.  That affected industries like transportation dependent upon a robust crop: We estimate the $43 million Washington has lost in asparagus production since 1998-2000 translates into an additional $57 million in missed economic activity in non-farm sectors.”

Aside from the Washington’s agricultural industry, any sort of attrition through enforcement immigration policy could devastate the state’s overall economy.  Citing from a Perryman Group study, the Immigration Policy Center reports that, “If all unauthorized immigrants were removed from Washington, the state would lose $14.5 billion in economic activity, $6.4 billion in gross state product, and approximately 71,197 jobs, even accounting for adequate market adjustment time.”

Policy & Moral Consequences: 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 Washington state, activists have been leading the charge to ramp up the pressure on President Obama to roll back deportations.  Earlier this week, dozens of protesters formed a human blockade in front of the entrance to a detention center in northwest Washington.  As one participant and Washington resident, Murphy Stacks, explained, “We live in a society that is profiting from detention and deportation of people, breaking apart families…That is just not right. We can create a just society if we are willing to fight for it.”  These efforts are further underscored by a hunger strike by Washington state detainees, protesting senseless deportations and inhumane treatment of immigrants in detention.

It’s Now or Never for Washington State 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.  Washington state’s Republicans should know better than anyone what association with anti-immigration, enforcement-only immigration policies can do to a state’s economy and moreover a Party’s political prospects.

It’s now or never for Washington state Republicans like House GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) and Rep. Dave Reichert (WA-08).  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 cements its reputation as an out of touch, anti-immigrant party for elections to come, while threatening their own political futures in 2014 and 2016.