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Immigration Reform: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

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WASHINGTON, DC—Republicans are running out of items on their list of excuses for inaction on immigration reform. The most recent, used in reference to Obamacare, is that President Barack Obama is not  to be trusted because he is “unable” to apply the laws as they are written, and, therefore, it isn’t worth it to pass a new immigration law.

The Republicans appear to be willing to ride the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) until it’s on its last legs. They’re catering to their base, but that base won’t be sufficient to reclaim the White House in 2016.

If Obama’s enforcement of immigration laws is the issue, just ask the nearly 2 million immigrants deported by this administration (a rate of 1,100 per day), including fathers, mothers, children, brothers or spouses who posed no threat to national security. They could tell you themselves that yes, he is. On this front, the government has implemented the law fervently, even to a fault; it’s overlooked its own prosecutorial-discretion policy, which is supposed to force agents to focus on serious criminals and not on those who would be able to legalize under the same immigration reform bill the President himself supports.

So, one more time, the immigrant community, its relatives and friends, and the citizens and legal residents who support them are all between a rock and a hard place: between a Republican Party which offers only fallacies and absurdities in place of a legislative solution, and a Democratic administration that deports immigrants in record numbers.

In the case of Republicans, with their most recent excuse of their lack of confidence in Obama to enforce the law, House Speaker John Boehner’s behavior shows that the votes obviously don’t exist among a majority of the Republican majority. Boehner grasps the deep divisions within his caucus over how and when to address immigration reform (the answers so far appear to be “not” and “never”), but it seems that the anti-immigrant wing of the party continues to drive its immigration policy, and carries more weight than the bipartisan majority (made up of Democrats and some Republicans) who do want to take this issue off the table, especially before the 2016 elections.

The threats made by some members of that wing, that Republican leaders would be putting their positions in jeopardy by insisting on pushing immigration reform, appear to have played a role in the “reversal” made by leadership two weeks after presenting their principles for immigration reform.

Their argument appears to be that Obamacare will be their trump card in the midterm election. They have no reason to provoke an internal fight over immigration, which would annoy the conservative base they’re hoping to drive to the polls on November 4th to retain control of the House and try to wrest the Senate from the Democrats.

They’re not looking even two years further out, to 2016, when they’ll face another presidential election without having shed their anti-immigrant reputation and without redeeming themselves to the Latino voters they need to win the White House. In general elections, as Mitt Romney proved in 2012, the base is not enough; and the stigma of having blocked immigration reform will continue to prevent Republicans from being a viable alternative for the Latino voters that they numerically need to win. With a base of Anglo-Saxon ultraconservatives who view minorities with suspicion, no one can win the White House.

Without a viable legislative path for immigration reform this year, it’s natural that pro-immigrant groups would turn their pressure to the Obama administration, asking him to use his executive power to stop the deportation of a larger group of undocumented immigrants, as he did for DREAMers in the last election year 2012.

This is the same executive power that Republicans say Obama is already abusing, and that has supposedly cost him the trust of the American people.

Republicans are refusing to offer the permanent legislative solution on immigration that we need. At the same time, they’d attack any form of executive action to grant certain groups relief from deportation—as an example that the President is going over Congress’ head and can’t be trusted.

You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

California Democrat Xavier Becerra asked on Univision’s “Al Punto,” “There’s going to be a lot of pressure (on Obama), but why the president, if the fault lies with those who don’t want to reform the laws that are making the president deport people?”—i.e. Republicans.

Immigrants aren’t the only ones between a rock and a hard place. Republicans are stuck between their intransigence and the threat of political irrelevance; Obama, between the deportations, his unfulfilled promise, and his legacy at stake.

Now, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York—one of the architects of the reform bill that passed the Senate on June 27, 2013—is proposing a “happy medium”: pass reform now, and not implement it until 2017, when Obama will be out of the White House. Is it possible?

In the middle of this political and electoral wrestling match, the “collateral damage” continues to fall on immigrants and their families, who once again see their lives and destinies used as political pawns in the cruelest imaginable game of chess.

Maribel Hastings is a senior adviser at America’s Voice.