tags: , , , , , , Press Releases

The Legislative Debate on Immigration Reform Has Arrived

Share This:

Action, Direction and Legalization Required by Congress

Washington, DC – June 15th is the ninth anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The hundreds of thousands of Dreamers whose lives and futures have been enriched by DACA remind us why expanding opportunities for immigrants not only helps these individuals and their families, but America as a whole.

The DACA anniversary arrives at a pivotal time for the immigration policy debate. Despite its overwhelming popularity with the American people, DACA’s future is, once again, threatened by Republicans via a Ken Paxton-inspired lawsuit purposefully put before a notoriously anti-immigrant federal judge in Texas, Judge Andrew Hanen. The ruling, expected any day now, is expected to be negative. DACA leaves out hundreds of thousands of younger Dreamers who were locked out of the program and unable to receive DACA protections during the Trump years, as well as TPS holders, farm workers, essential workers, and the rest of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in America. 

On Tuesday, DACA anniversary day, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on H.R. 6, the “American Dream and Promise Act of 2021.” The legislation passed the House in March 2021 on a bipartisan basis and would put millions of Dreamers and TPS holders on pathways to citizenship. The hearing will serve a number of purposes: it will underscore why we need citizenship and leadership from Congress to make it so; it will put Republicans on the record about whether they support clean citizenship bills that will legalize undocumented immigrants; and it will be something like the starting gun for a legislative debate has arrived.

Here are a few of the related dynamics and questions:

The perennial GOP excuse for inaction on citizenship 

Republicans’ “border security first” excuse to get to “no” on citizenship has been their go-to for more than a decade. Republican gamesmanship is about hyping a “crisis at the border” when the crisis is in Central America. Republicans want to mobilize Trump voters for 2022, and a bipartisan breakthrough in 2021 could undercut their overriding priority, which is to take and hold political power.

Regarding the border, the “crisis” was always overblown and over-hyped (and pre-dated Biden), but it did slow the administration down as they focused on processing unaccompanied minors in a safe, humane and orderly way. The fact is that most adult migrants are being turned away in huge numbers, but to hear Republicans and their media outlets discuss it, you would think that the number of immigrants settling in the U.S. without authorization is significantly increasing. 

The American consensus on immigration 

The public wants a pathway to citizenship for millions, a managed border that treats refugees and immigrants humanely, reform and reduction of our bloated enforcement apparatus, and a fair, humane and functional immigration system. 

Yes, the public wants to understand that there is a humane and workable plan in place to deal with the crisis in Central America and the related impact on our southern border. But as recent NPR/Ipsos immigration polling reminds us, Americans recognize that “the current situation at the border is a problem” and support a range of solutions and they want action on citizenship legislation. In short, the American people reject the GOP’s core excuse for inaction. They want Congress to formally recognize settled undocumented immigrants as the Americans they already are.

Solving problems, or just playing politics? You choose.

Republicans want to obstruct the Biden agenda, politicize the border, and use the mirage of bipartisan negotiations to slow walk the process and scuttle legislation. Here are some key quotes from the GOP leaders:

  • Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said of the prospects of delivering legislation that includes a pathway to citizenship, “I don’t think they’re going to have a snowball’s chance in hell of doing that … There’ll be no immigration reform until you get control of the border.”
  • Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) told the New York Times, “Before we can do anything meaningful on immigration, we’re going to have to deal with the current crisis at the border.” This is classic Cornyn – positioning himself as a faux deal-maker who talks a good game and strings out the negotiations but always gets to “no” (it’s so typical of Cornyn that we have dubbed it the “Cornyn Con” – see the linked post for the receipts).
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told the truth when he declared, “100% of my focus is on stopping this new administration.” 

If Democrats go big, they can win 

We understand the desire of Senate Democrats to exhaust bipartisan attempts, but we urge them to be clear-eyed. The bad faith of their Republican colleagues is evident in their public pronouncements. So Democrats need to find a way to deliver – whether through reconciliation or filibuster reform.

The multiracial majority of Americans elected Democrats to deliver on long overdue challenges resolved. They want their government to take action to advance the American experiment. They elected Democrats not to engage in endless discussions with Republicans, but to deliver solutions that change lives and improve our nation. 

Democrats need to use every ounce of their power to produce a breakthrough.