Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D) of Illinois is arguably the most stalwart advocate for comprehensive immigration reform in the House, so it’s a jolt for reformers when he gives up on the effort.
But Wednesday, that’s exactly what Representative Gutierrez did. In a fiery speech from the House floor, he said that the prospects for an immigration bill this year were dead, and that President Obama should instead move to limit deportations via executive action.
“First of all, your chance to play a role in how immigration and deportation policies are carried out this year is over,” Gutierrez told Republicans. “Having been given ample time and space to craft legislation, you failed.”
Gutierrez had previously called on House Republicans to produce an immigration reform bill by the July 4 recess.The Democrat-controlled Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill nearly a year ago, 68 to 32, but the GOP-controlled House has refused to take up the legislation.
The timetable for a House reform bill is critical, because only seven legislative weeks remains between July 8, when the House returns, and midterm elections in November. With the GOP’s failure to produce such a bill, Gutierrez said that executive action at the White House was the last remaining option.
“I gave you the warning three months ago, and now I have no other choice,” shouted Gutierrez, brandishing a red card in his left hand – a reference to World Cup soccer. “You’re done. Leave the field. Too many flagrant offenses and unfair attacks and too little action while you run out the clock.... It's a red card.”
If Mr. Obama does act alone, it would violate a compromise the president made with House Republicans in March. Then, Obama directed his Homeland Security chief, Jeh Johnson, to examine deportation policies and determine whether they could be made more “humane.” When Republicans objected, Obama pledged to delay the review until the end of the summer, in order to preserve any chance that might have remained for a House bill.
Not all high-ranking House members are willing to give up on a congressional immigration bill just yet. On Wednesday morning, hours before Gutierrez’s speech, Sens. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York and John McCain (R) of Arizona, both major players in immigration reform efforts, said at a breakfast hosted by The Wall Street Journal that a chance for reform in Congress still remained.
"I can’t tell you ... that we have a great shot at it, but I know the consequences of failure, which will motivate me to continue to try no matter what," Mr. McCain said.
The resolve of House leaders aside, there’s little doubt that the political climate for immigration reform has deteriorated significantly in recent weeks.
Gutierrez’s declaration came 15 days after the surprise defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia, who had supported limited reform efforts, to tea party-backed challenger David Brat, who repeatedly claimed that Mr. Cantor backed "amnesty" for illegal immigrants.
“If immigration had any hope before Tuesday, it certainly doesn’t have any now,” wrote journalist Danny Vinik in the New Republic, just hours after Cantor’s loss.
Also complicating recent reform efforts has been an increasing humanitarian crisis on the US-Mexico border, where some 52,000 unaccompanied minors have been detained since October. Many Republicans, led by Rep. Darrell Issa of California, have blamed the Obama administration for fueling the crisis, pointing to his support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which allows children of illegal immigrants to stay and work in the US for an additional two years in some cases.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.