What a difference a year makes. It was only a year ago that Republicans were among the loudest voices for comprehensive immigration reform. Of course, they were speaking not out of conviction, but out of desperation, after their party's disastrous showing among Latino voters in November 2012.
In 2004, running for re-election as president under the banner "Un Nuevo Dia," George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. That advantage began to disappear in 2008, when John McCain and Sarah Palin won only 31 percent of the Latino vote, compared to 67 percent for Barack Obama and Joe Biden. It vanished in 2012 after Mitt Romney suggested "self-deportation" as the preferred solution to dealing with America's 11 million illegal immigrant population – and snared only 27 percent of the Latino vote.
At that point, many Republicans joined President Obama and congressional Democrats in declaring that the time for comprehensive immigration reform is "now!" Sen. Lindsey Graham even warned that, given their pitiful performance among Latino voters in 2012, Republicans could give up any chance of ever winning the White House again unless they took the lead on immigration reform. "The demographics race we're losing badly," Sen. Graham said of his party in August 2012. "We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term."
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Savvier Republicans knew something had to change. The stage was set for action. Expectations were high. In June 2013, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill with a healthy 68-32 margin. But John Boehner immediately declared the bill "DOA," having swallowed the circular but cynical reasoning of tea-party Republicans that while Republicans might need to act on immigration reform to win back the White House in 2016, they don't need it to maintain control of Congress in 2014. Therefore, yet again, they've decided to put party ahead of country and delay immigration reform till 2015. As if it'll be any easier then.
So, any possibility of action on immigration is dead this year, and there's nothing President Obama can do about it. Right? Wrong! There is something President Obama can do – and should do immediately: Sign an executive order to stop the wholesale deportation of undocumented workers.
In 2009, eager to deliver on his campaign promise of immigration reform, President Obama decided to crack down on border security as a way of convincing Republicans to agree to comprehensive legislation. But while Republicans have reneged on their end of the deal, Obama's kept his: putting more guards on the border and building more miles of fence than any other president. He's even added drones to the border patrol.
So far, so good. Unfortunately, while waiting for Congress to offer some path to citizenship for the 11 million people here illegally, Obama continues to deport them as fast as he can. Over the last five years, according to the Department of Homeland Security's own figures, the Obama administration has deported 1.93 million people – more deportations than in the eight years under George W. Bush. Every day, another 1,000 people are deported. That's 42 every hour – of whom, according to a Syracuse University study, less than 15 percent have committed any crime other than crossing the border illegally. They're no threat to public safety. Typically, undocumented workers are seized at work and taken to a detention center where they're given, according to the Washington Post, just seven minutes to make their case in immigration court.
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For most of us, those are just numbers. But, as Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network says, "For our community, it's about our fathers, our sons, our daughters, our grandparents, uncles, aunts." The impact on families is devastating. As it was for Carlos Oliva-Guillen, father of three American-born children. His youngest child, 7 months old, is being treated at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for a life-threatening condition. But Carlos, who's lived in the United States for 10 years and has a job and family and pays taxes, was nonetheless rounded up and slated for deportation by federal agents. According to NJ.com, Oliva-Guillen's deportation was halted temporarily only after immigration officials "learned genetic testing on the detainee would be critical to the treatment of his gravely ill son."
This breaking up of families is unconscionable. In his State of the Union address, President Obama said he was willing to use his pen and phone where necessary. He should start by signing an executive order to halt deportations of all but those who have committed serious crimes until Congress acts on immigration reform.