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Our Renewal of Confidence in Immigration Reform | Commentary

Immigration reform advocates may feel disheartened after Speaker John A. Boehner’s declaration that House immigration bills will not be combined with the Senate’s proposal to fix our immigration system. In times like these — as we reinforce our efforts at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to carry our just immigration policies — it is important to reach back for the lessons of history, stay grounded and keep our eyes on the prize.

On the day of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, he was to have delivered a speech that is fitting for today’s immigration reform movement.

“This is a time for courage and a time for challenge. Neither conformity nor complacency will do. Neither the fanatics nor the fainthearted are needed … Let us stand together with renewed confidence in our cause,” Kennedy’s prepared speech read.

With Congress abdicating its legislative duty on immigration, this is a time for courage and a time for challenge for advocates. We have worked in good faith to secure legislation that brings justice to families torn apart by the broken immigration system. The Senate passed a bipartisan measure in June but the House — entangled in a political straitjacket of its own making — has yet to budge.

This inaction is having a devastating toll on families. Every day that Congress fails to enact commonsense immigration reform, 1,100 immigrants are ripped away from their families and communities.

Let’s be clear: The permanent solution to the immigration system crisis rests with Congress. It must enact legislation that provides an inclusive road map to citizenship for all aspiring Americans. We will not stop fighting for an immigration system that lives up to our national values and addresses our economic needs.

While Congress gets the job done, we will also be demanding that the administration take steps now to rein in its detention and deportation machine.

President Barack Obama has the legal and moral authority to provide work authorization for aspiring citizens, as well as halt their deportations. Until Congress acts, the administration must mitigate the damage our broken immigration system causes and stop deporting today the citizens of tomorrow.

This year, the federal government is spending an eye-popping $18 billion to detain and deport future citizens, despite experts’ findings that this practice is as fiscally irresponsible as it is morally bankrupt. Congress can and should rein in detention and deportation spending sprees at the Department of Homeland Security.

Homeland Security’s new leadership also must carry out existing policy directives to prevent unnecessary detentions and deportations of the very people who help grow our economy and enrich our national heritage, despite what opponents claim.

Kennedy’s words remind us “neither the fanatics nor the fainthearted are needed.” In today’s political world — particularly on the issue of immigration reform — we have had enough of both.

The extreme conservatives have insulted immigrants severely and frequently, to the point of damaging their party’s brand with Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander voters, the fastest-growing segments of the electorate. Yet the extremists have made their House leaders fearful of taking an immigration reform vote on the House floor, knowing it would pass because it is backed by a solid majority of voters across all communities and political spectrum.

We are fortified, however, by the fundamental fact that ours is a just cause. Immigrant communities have created a political movement powered by our votes that will hold Congress accountable for allowing immigration reform to be held hostage.

Our movement has proven it is strong and powerful enough to make immigration reform a matter of when, not if.

Until that day comes, however, we must do everything we can to ensure that the 11 million aspiring citizens can live free from fear of losing their families simply because Congress has not upheld its promise to fix our immigration system. Too much damage has already been done.

We will continue working on Capitol Hill for just immigration laws of tomorrow, while pushing the administration to fairly carry out immigration policy today. Both strategies help strengthen our communities and keep families united.

Inaction is not an option. The time for Congress and the Obama administration to do the right thing for immigrant families and our country is now.

Marielena Hincapié is the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

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