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What We Know & What We Don’t Know About the Future of Immigration Reform

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Boehner’s Comments Sow Confusion; Latino Media, Others Strongly Critical

Washington, DC – Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) yesterday threw cold water on the prospects of immigration reform, while managing to sow additional seeds of confusion about his intentions for reform:

  • What We Don’t Know – What Is John Boehner Really Saying About Reform?  Did He Lie to the Young Immigration Activists, or is He Shutting Down Immigration Reform?  Yesterday morning, Speaker Boehner told two young immigration activists who approached the Speaker at breakfast, “I’m trying to find some way to get this thing done…It’s, uh, as you know, not easy, not going to be an easy path forward.  But I’ve made it clear since the day after the election it’s time to get this done.”  Yet after telling these young girls that he would find a way forward, Speaker Boehner said to the press yesterday that the House GOP has “no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill.”  Did Boehner lie to the girls?  As one of the two young activists, Carmen Lima, said on last night’s “All In with Chris Hayes” show on MSNBC, “I feel betrayed.  I feel like he lied to me.  I feel like my story meant nothing to him, which is terrible.”
  • What We Do Know – The Criticisms of Speaker Boehner’s Comments Were Swift and Widespread:  Spanish language news immediately covered Boehner’s comments as a signal that House Republicans would block reform – the coverage was swift and condemnation of Boehner and House Republicans near unanimous.  For example, influential Univision anchor Jorge Ramos tweeted yesterday, “Important. @SpeakerBoehner is killing immigration reform for this year.  It’s his call. Latinos will remember that at the polls.”  This sentiment was echoed though Spanish language print andtelevision outlets who ran the juxtaposition of Boehner’s comments to the young girls and his comments to the media on repeat.  Republican Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) swiftly criticized the Speaker for closing down options.  Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) called out Boehner for his “obstructionism.”  Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) weighed in,tweeting, “Actually it is easy, @SpeakerBoehner. With 190 cosponsors on H.R.15 and 28 Rs vowing support, we have the votes to pass #immigration reform.” And as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told Fusion, “This House of Representatives might just as well not exist. They don’t do anything.”
  • What We Don’t Know – Boehner’s Office Tries to Walk Back His Comments, Confuses His Stance Further:  The New York Times reported late yesterday that, “An aide to Mr. Boehner said that he was not ruling out negotiations with the Senate on any immigration bill, but simply throwing water on the idea that the House would pass one or two smaller bills and then merge them in a conference committee with the Senate’s larger plan.”  Huh?  What was Speaker Boehner trying to say yesterday – that it’s the House’s way or the highway on immigration?  Was he trying to reiterate his ongoing “piecemeal” pledge in the House?  Or was he trying to make news with a hardened stance?  How does he reconcile his continued pledge for action on immigration with his continued refusal to move legislation forward?  Why did his aide walk back the comments?
  • What We Do Know – Vulnerable House Republicans with Sizeable Latino Constituencies, Like Rep. Jeff Denham, Need to Deliver on Immigration Reform:  Yesterday, according to the Los Angeles Times, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) was supposed to deliver closed-door comments to his House Republican colleague on behalf of immigration reform.  What was the follow-up to the meeting?  For Rep. Denham and other vulnerable 2014 House Republicans representing sizeable Latino voter constituencies, it’s not enough to say supportive pro-reform comments.  Instead, they need to deliver on immigration reform.  Their association with a Republican Party that remains intent to slow-walk reform is a political liability.  Earlier this year the House GOP leadership allowed a vote on an amendment authored by anti-immigrant extremist Steve King to subject DREAMers to deportation.  In absence of action on broad immigration reform in this Congress, All House Republicans, including vulnerable 2014 targets representing sizeable Latino voter constituencies, will be tagged for that vote.
  • What We Do Know – Our Movement is Growing Stronger and Isn’t Going Away: The GOP should take note: the escalation from advocates is only going to continue.  Today, as part of the Center for Community Change’s (CCC) “Keeping Families Together: Youth in Action” campaign, 150 children and family members are engaged in a Children’s Procession on Capitol Hill to highlight personal stories about family separations and deportations.  Soon after, leading Latino organizations NCLR Action Fund, LULAC, LCLAA, Hispanic Federation and Mi Familia Vota are issuing a letter to leaders of both parties calling on them to pressure House leadership to make immigration reform a reality.  Dozens of faith, immigrant rights, and labor organizations are currently fasting on behalf of immigration reform.  Yesterday, activists engaged in civil disobedience at the Spokane, WA office of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a member of House Republican leadership.  Last week, GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) had to show up his office late on Thursday night to meet with activists.  Next week, DREAMers will descend on DC to make their voices heard.  Rallies, fasts and pilgrimages are planned in New York, Minnesota, Washington, Florida and Virginia.  AFL-CIO and SEIU are running ads pressuring House Republicans to support reform.

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

Speaker Boehner needs to be specific.  Does he plan to move forward on immigration reform in a way that can result in a legislative breakthrough, or does he plan to slowly but surely get to ‘no’ on reform?  Does he plan to stand with the majority of the county and the majority of the House that supports immigration reform with a path to citizenship, or does he plan to go down in history as the man who sped the demise of the GOP as a viable national party?  Does he plan to throw a lifeline to vulnerable Republican House Members in Latino-influenced districts, or does he plan to throw them under the bus?  Does he plan to modernize the GOP so that it is competitive in 2016, or does he plan to continue ceding power to reckless Tea Partiers?  If Boehner thinks observers got the wrong message from his comments yesterday, then he needs to clarify in specific detail, not through vague walk-backs from unnamed aides.  If they don’t clarify, then it’s likely that House Republicans are moving in the direction of blocking reform.  One thing is for certain: our movement will continue to ratchet up the pressure until we win.