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What Does it Mean that Sen. Menendez and Janet Murguía Called on President Obama to Roll Back Deportations? Short-term Heartburn for the White House and Long-term Disaster for the GOP

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During last evening’s 2014 NCLR Capital Awards dinner, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and NCLR President Janet Murguía both made impassioned pleas to President Obama to roll back the deportation machinery that rips families apart on a daily basis.  Without a doubt, this will increase pressure on the Obama Administration to take bold executive action.  But while it means short-term heartburn for the White House, it spells long-term disaster for the Republican Party.

Here’s why.  If House Republicans decide to play politics and block immigration reform, then the window of opportunity for floor action on immigration reform this year will close, and House Republican inaction will effectively cede the initiative to President Obama.  This would undoubtedly lead to the President using his pen and phone to take bold executive action on behalf of millions of undocumented immigrants who are low priorities for detention and deportation.  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 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.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

It’s now or never for the Republican Party.  They either act in the first half of this year or squander an historic opportunity to shape immigration policy and win political credit.  They either respond to the strong public support for reform, or they can forget about their ballyhooed ‘rebranding’ effort with the fastest growing groups of voters in America.  They either get right on immigration reform this year or risk the party’s political future.  For once the President acts administratively to protect millions of undocumented immigrants, it is predictable that reform advocates will opt to wait on moving forward with a renewed push for immigration reform legislation for when Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Here’s what Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), one of the most prominent immigration reform champions in the U.S. Senate, said at last night’s dinner:

While we continue waiting for the House of Representatives to wake up and move on immigration reform legislation, I urge the President to take action today and halt needless deportations that are splitting apart our families and communities…the current deportation apparatus is an outrage and it’s a tragedy.

As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent captures today:

If the discharge petition Dems will employ to force a House vote on immigration reform fails, the pressure will rapidly intensify on the President to act, since it would confirm once again Republicans have no intention of acting this year.  You could see more senior Dems in Congress stepping forward as Menendez has now done.

Here are some excerpts of what NCLR President Janet Murguía said in her keynote address last night:

Any day now, this Administration will reach the two million mark for deportations.  It is a staggering number that far outstrips any of his predecessors and leaves behind it a wake of devastation for families across America.  Many groups, including NCLR, have long been calling on the president to mitigate the damage of these record deportations.  But again we hear no.  The president says his administration does not have the authority to act on its own.

Nearly half of those being deported are simply hardworking people who have put down roots in their communities and have employers who count on them.  Most have been here more than a decade.  One out of every four deportees is the parent of a child who is a U.S. citizen.  Hundreds of thousands of these children, our children, are being deprived of their mother or father—and very often the family’s only breadwinner.  It will take generations to heal the harm caused by inaction.  So, yes.  We respectfully disagree with the president on his ability to stop unnecessary deportations.  He can stop tearing families apart.  He can stop throwing communities and businesses into chaos.  He can stop turning a blind eye to the harm being done.  He does have the power to stop this.  Failure to act will be a shameful legacy for his presidency.  But we cannot rely on administrative relief alone.  It’s important and it’s needed, but it is also limited and temporary.  We do a grave disservice to our community and to ourselves if we focus on only one front in this battle.  Only Congress can deliver a broad, inclusive, and lasting solution.

Said Sharry:

The window of opportunity is closing for the Republican Party.  Do they realize the stakes?  If they care about surviving as a viable national political party, they better.