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At Tonight’s State of the Union Address, the Stark Distinctions Between the Two Parties on Immigration Will be on Display

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The following is from Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, reflecting on immigration ahead of tonight’s State of the Union address:

Tonight the distinctions between the parties on immigration policy will be on full display.  The President has taken decisive, common-sense action to begin fixing our dysfunctional immigration system, and a family that is benefiting will be represented in the First Lady’s box by a Dreamer from Texas named Ana Zamora.  Meanwhile, the Republican Party has promised to fight the President’s executive actions “tooth and nail” even if it means a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security at a time of heightened concern over terrorism. 

It didn’t have to be this way.  In the last Congress, President Obama and leading Democrats in the Senate and the House bent over backwards in hopes of enacting landmark immigration reform legislation.  The implicit deal was this: Republicans get to solve a big political problem and influence a big policy win as long as Democrats get to retain key policy elements of a comprehensive overhaul.  That understanding held as the Senate passed immigration reform legislation on a bipartisan basis in June, 2013.  It did not hold in the House as Republican leadership proved unwilling and unable to buck the nativist wing of the party.  They couldn’t even muster the wherewithal to have floor votes on the elements of comprehensive immigration reform.  In the end, the only votes allowed were on proposals fashioned by the likes of Rep. Steve King (R-IA) aimed at putting Dreamers and the parents of Americans back in the deportation line.

Fortunately, in November of last year President Obama responded to the cries for justice from immigrants and their allies.  He stepped up and used his well-established legal authority to begin re-balancing our immigration system.  Though not a substitute for the permanent legislative fix we still need, the changes mean that millions of hard working immigrant families will be able to contribute more fully to the country they now call home.

Unfortunately, the Republican Party seems to have forgotten the lessons of the 2012 election.  Rather than standing up to the current of nasty nativism that courses through the GOP, the leadership has enabled the hard right such that now it speaks for the entire party.  This has led the GOP to pick a fight with the President that they cannot and will not win and pick a battleground – homeland security – that makes any showdown or shutdown seem especially irresponsible. 

We are not expecting a whole lot of attention on immigration tonight.  But when it does come, the distinctions between the two parties will be on full display.  The President and the Democrats are on offense, fighting to help immigrants families as a way to build a stronger America.  The Republicans are on defense, trying to stop progress on fixing our broken immigration system and insisting on a policy of maximum deportations.  Given that a strong majority of Americans want our broken immigration system fixed, recognize that deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants is impractical and un-American, and favor policies that create a path to legal status and citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the President and the Democrats have the clear advantage in this fight.