In Illinois, business leaders from the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition and Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago pulled together moderate Republicans to pledge to work toward immigration reform in Washington that supports families and the economy. Gov. Bruce Rauner, Sen. Mark S. Kirk, and Reps. Robert J. Dold, Adam Kinzinger and Aaron Schock, all Illinois Republicans, are welcome additions to the team fighting for immigration reform, border security and legal immigration. But it will take more than a news conference and nice words about the issue to break us out of gridlock.
I hope I can count on my Illinois colleagues to push back on their own colleagues when Republican leaders and candidates say immigrants are “killing Americans every day” or coming to America for the “free food” or whatever other talking point Republicans use in Congress and on television. We need allies who will stand up to the bullies who paint all immigrants as free-loaders, criminals and a drain on America.
The reality is clear. Almost all of the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants in the U.S. will live here for the rest of their lives, regardless of whether we change our policies. Most have lived here for a decade already, and most live in families with children who are mostly U.S. citizens. Uprooting this population isn’t going to happen — no matter how many deportation bills the House GOP majority passes or how strenuously Republicans demonize immigrants, block legal immigration and delay reforming the system.
Even the worst ideas of House Republicans — such as a bill to deport DREAMers who have already passed a criminal background check that is being marked-up in the Judiciary Committee — are unlikely to become law because legislatively, we are at a stalemate. Republicans have enough votes to pass some partisan anti-immigrant and anti-immigration bills in committee and maybe the House, but probably not enough votes to pass them in the Senate. And even if a bill does pass, neither the House nor the Senate could override a presidential veto, so these measures will never become law.
In response to gridlock, President Barack Obama took action last November to address aspects of how immigration laws are administered, where resources are deployed and how deportation priorities can be aligned with national priorities. But the Republican response to the president’s actions was both predictable and cynical. The Republican reaction to action is always to insist on inaction.
Republicans attempted to defund the Department of Homeland Security, but the strategy failed under the weight of its own self-defeating, futile silliness. It took an eleventh-hour vote to keep the DHS open and legislation to fund the agency eventually passed on the strength of Democratic votes.
A lawsuit demanding a halt to Obama’s executive actions was filed by Republican governors and attorneys general as a second front in the GOP’s fight for inaction. The result is a temporary injunction. While I and other Democrats help families get themselves ready to apply for protection from deportation when the time comes, the stays and appeals are already working their way through the courts.
Rather than proposing a clear vision of immigration policy, Republicans who control both chambers of Congress seem content to keep blocking the majority who favor reform. They offer recycled deportation-only approaches to give their constituents the false impression that they are working toward greater enforcement and control when in reality, greater enforcement and control can only come through broader reforms to our immigration system.
I will start with my Republican colleagues from Illinois and work with any Republicans who are serious about legislating. In the meantime, Democrats will protect as many families from deportation as possible until reform happens.
Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez is a Democrat from Illinois.