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Immigration Reform “Office Hours”

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office hoursGOP Steve King Problem = Latino Problem; After KIDS Act Hearing, Latino Polling Says Go Big or Go Home

Today, America’s Voice alongside other immigration advocates and policy experts held the twentieth in a series of weekly “Office Hours” press briefings.  Moderated by Frank Sharry, Executive Director at America’s Voice, today’s call featured Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO; Rosa Velazquez, member of United We Dream’s National Coordinating Committee and co-founder and executive director of Arkansas Coalition for DREAM; and Eduardo Rodriguez, DREAMer from Iowa.    

During today’s call, speakers discussed the KIDS Act hearing, the ongoing anti-immigrant rant from Rep. Steve King (R-IA) as well as recent America’s Voice / Latino Decisions polling showing the damage the Steve King wing of the Republican Party is doing when it comes to attracting Latino voters.

During what was supposed to be a step forward for the House GOP on immigration this week, the House Immigration Subcommittee held a hearing on the KIDS Act – a DREAM Act-lite reform that would provide legalization to DREAMers but leave out their parents.  In response, DREAMers and immigration advocates came out in full force against this path, reminding House Republicans that immigration half-measures won’t cut it.

During today’s call Rosa Velazquez, member of United We Dream’s National Coordinating Committee and co-founder and executive director of Arkansas Coalition for DREAM talked about her experience as a witness for the KIDS Act hearing this past week in the House Immigration Subcommittee as well as United We Dream’s opposition to the bill and others like it:

We are aiming to create an immigration system that treats all immigrants with dignity.  We won’t leave our parents behind or accept proposals that would criminalize our communities.  My mother made the courageous decision to bring her two children to the U.S., where she knew that with hard work and perseverance, we would have the opportunity to succeed.  If anyone deserves citizenship, it’s my hardworking mother, Rosalinda.

The hearing, which in itself did little in the way of “Latino outreach,” was further exacerbated by new comments from Rep. Steve King who said that DREAMers are more likely to be “130 pound drug runners” with “calves the size of cantaloupes” than valedictorians, and any attempt to legalize the latter would inevitably sweep in 100 of the former.  King’s comments sent off a firestorm of reactions, with denunciations from Members of Congress of both parties and DREAMers themselves.

A poll released by the American Action Network, from King’s home district in Iowa, highlighted that King’s views are not even in sync with his own constituents. It noted that:

68 percent of voters in Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District supports an ‘earned pathway to legal status,’ while 65 percent support an ‘earned pathway to citizenship.’ Of the Republican voters in King’s district, 70 percent back a path to legal status, while 51 percent back a pathway to citizenship.

Said Eduardo Rodriguez, a DREAMer from Steve King’s district:

King’s comments are offensive, unnecessary and out of touch. King’s own community is changing, his district is changing.  One out of four elementary school students is Latino.  King is disconnected and doesn’t realize the benefits immigrants bring to Iowa and to our country, unfortunately he sees it in a negative light. Steve King needs to come to terms with the community.  There’s a whole other generation coming up and King is going to have to revise his thinking.

Although House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) among others have condemned Rep. King and apologized for his remarks, GOP leadership has not done anything to lead the party away from King’s policies. Just a few weeks ago, these same Republican House members voted to pass King’s amendment to defund the Deferred Action Program for DREAMers.

Said Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO:

Republicans can distance themselves from Steve King and condemn his language but immigrants are paying attention, they know that right now a large number of Republican members in the House of Representatives are following Steve King in opposing citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans. It’s true that his comments bothered us, they’re despicable, but what matters more are the substantive changes to immigration laws. Right now the labor community is mobilizing – not to make politicians more polite – but because there are roughly a thousand deportations every day. Deportations ravage families. Deportations wreck communities. Deportations undermine workers. Workers who are denied citizenship are denied full and equal human rights. We are not going to settle for legislative crumbs. Republicans will vote for a real roadmap to citizenship or face the consequences.

Also this week, Latino Decisions and America’s Voice released the results of a new poll of Latino voters in 24 Republican-held battleground districts. The poll shows that offensive statements and inaction on proactive policy solutions add to a 70% disapproval rating on GOP handling of immigration among Latino midterm voters. Among those voters 62% have voted Republican at some point in their lives and 50% would be more likely to support a GOP House candidate in their district if they take a leadership role in passing immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, even if they disagree on other issues. It’s clear that Latino voters’ approval of the Republican Party is tied to whether they pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship. When it comes to the GOP’s Steve King problem, an apology is appreciated, but it’s not enough, the party needs to do more in order to deal with their overall Latino problem. Both issues are connected and the only way to solve them is to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  You can’t apologize for hateful remarks on one hand and then vote for hurtful policies for the community in the other.

Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice said:

While we’re pleased to see Speaker Boehner denounce Steve King’s remarks not only once, but twice, it’s remains extremely disconcerting to know that King, the man who likens immigrants to animals, still sits on the House Judiciary Committee, which is poised to determine the fate of immigration reform. As we head into August recess, we can already see that House Republicans are starting to test the waters in their own caucus, to see if there is support for legalization with a citizenship option, but the only way they can undo the harm he’s done is by passing immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million.”

For recordings and resources from prior Office Hours calls, click here.