House Republicans would be foolish not to pass comprehensive immigration reform

The government shutdown and looming debt-ceiling debate shouldn't prevent House Republicans from tackling comprehensive immigration reform. A practical, common-ground solution could improve America's fiscal health and it's what the majority of voters are calling for.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. speaks at a news conference Oct. 2 on Capitol Hill after House Democrats unveiled an immigration reform bill. Op-ed contributor Javier H. Valdés writes: 'Comprehensive immigration reform is one of those rare marriages of good policy and good politics. It should constitute common ground for Republicans and Democrats.'

Opponents of immigration reform are once again speculating about the death of comprehensive immigration reform this year. And at first glance, the House of Representatives calendar is too full with other issues – chiefly now the budget battle and government shutdown, as well as the looming debt ceiling fight.

While Congress certainly has other important issues to consider this year, the notion that the House cannot advance immigration legislation because of lack of votes or lack of time is flawed. In fact, comprehensive immigration reform has been gaining momentum among Republicans who are listening to their constituents’ demands. And tackling immigration reform with practical, common ground solutions has the potential to improve America’s long- and short-term fiscal health as well.

On October 5th, supporters of comprehensive immigration reform will rally in more than 100 cities and the Capitol to demand speedy action. House Republicans would be wise to listen to what overwhelming majorities of US citizens – as well as small businesses, faith communities, and the technology and agricultural sectors – are clamoring for: comprehensive immigration reform in 2013. 

House Democrats released their own version of a comprehensive immigration reform bill yesterday to remind their GOP colleagues of this issue’s urgency, but they need Republican support to make real progress. Meanwhile, House Republicans are reportedly working on a series of smaller-scale proposals after their party leadership refused to vote on the comprehensive immigration bill that the Senate passed with strong bipartisan support earlier this year.

The Senate legislation included the provision for an earned path to citizenship for eleven million undocumented immigrants, contingent on a heavy immigration enforcement build-up. The spring immigration debate in the Senate that led to this bipartisan bill was largely the result of legislators’ wake-up call from the 2012 elections, when Latino and immigrant voters overwhelmingly supported Democrats and helped deliver President Obama’s re-election.

The momentum remains on the side of Latinos, immigrants, and other supporters of reform. And the overwhelming majority of Americans favor comprehensive immigration reform – rather than piecemeal changes or those that focus on enforcement-only approaches or work visas for particular industries.

Over the summer, advocates of reform organized approximately 1,200 events, including vigils and protests, in more than 40 states; attended nearly 150 town halls; conducted more than 350 congressional visits; collected 600,000 signatures for a petition for House Speaker John Boehner; and contacted members of Congress nearly 100,000 times, according to the Alliance for Citizenship’s database. Now, on Oct. 5, supporters will again rally nationwide to demand comprehensive immigration reform.

These grassroots efforts have paid off. Despite many Republicans’ concern about alienating their base by supporting comprehensive immigration reform, at least 26 House Republicans have publicly supported a path to citizenship, including New York’s Rep. Peter King. Mr. King saw that 80 percent of his Long Island constituents support reform (including 70 percent of Republicans) – a figure that echoes national survey results. He heard the myriad phone calls to his office, listened to voters at the dozens of public events they organized, and opted to take a clear public stance.

Republicans like King, who have earned our praise, have recognized what became abundantly clear in November 2012, and what remains so today: Comprehensive immigration reform is one of those rare marriages of good policy and good politics. It should constitute common ground for Republicans and Democrats, as many senators have already shown.

Comprehensive immigration reform is good policy because it offers a common-sense solution to our broken immigration system by offering an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants while updating our visa system and border security system. While many pro-immigrant groups like ours feel the Senate bill went too far in further militarizing our borders, we accepted that politics is the art of the possible, and compromise was necessary. We hope – and expect – that those with views different from ours will recognize the same.

We further know what myriad studies have shown: Comprehensive immigration reform would not only keep millions of families together, but also reinvigorate our economy and help strengthen national priorities like Social Security.

Such reform is ultimately good politics for Republicans, because, without it, the anti-immigrant albatross will remain firmly fixed around their necks. Failure by the GOP-controlled House to pass a comprehensive bill would re-affirm what most Latino and immigrant voters were thinking when they voted for Democrats last November: The GOP does not take their needs seriously. And the Latino and immigrant electorate will only continue to grow.

But opponents of reform continue to stall. Presenting the likely fall House calendar in September for his Republican colleagues, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor prioritized other issues before immigration reform, saying only that the House “may” begin considering some immigration reform legislation given the other items on the calendar. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R) of Virginia, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, has said his committee will take up various pieces of immigration-related legislation in October, but without including a path to citizenship for eleven million undocumented immigrants and without providing a clear timeline for action.

This is simply not good enough. The notion that lawkmakers cannot debate issues like the federal budget while advancing comprehensive immigration reform legislation is an insult to our Congress and an insult to voters. And the notion that immigration reform should take a back seat to a manufactured debt-ceiling crisis is even more preposterous.

It’s time for the House of Representatives to follow the will of the American people and pass comprehensive immigration reform this fall.

Javier H. Valdés is co-executive director of Make the Road New York, the largest participatory immigrants’ rights organization in New York.

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