With various polls showing a pathway to citizenship more popular than the GOP’s favorability rating, immigration reform advocates say the will keep working lives on while the wheels of Congress stall on the issue.
“We are not giving up,” said Kathy Bird, campaign lead at Florida Immigrant Coalition, a statewide alliance of more than 30 member organizations advocating for immigrant rights. “We are going to continue. This is an issue that’s popular with American voters.”
It is a direct challenge to House Republicans, some of whom have already predicted that immigration reform is dead in 2013 because of the few remaining legislative days this year.
U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is also the majority whip, confirmed the bills’ demise last week when speaking to advocates, according to published news reports. His colleague U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., a member of the House’s now defunct immigration working group, told the Washington Post that he also doesn’t think the lower chamber will be able to act this year because of the time crunch. His hope is that lawmakers could get moving early next year, as failure to pass immigration reform bills by February or March would mean that if it's an election year, “then it’s clearly dead,” he said. “It flatlines.”
Following Diaz-Balart’s statement, the coalition’s executive director, Maria Rodriguez, issued a statement that read, “Immigration reform is not dead until we say so. Our movement is stronger than ever and we are not going away. We will continue until we see the value of 11 million people, who already contribute to this great nation, restored. The only thing that is dying is the hope that the House GOP leadership can get anything done in Congress.”
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Despite the negative news from the right, energized advcoates told International Business Times on Monday they are committed to staying the course and have plans to continue reaching out to members of Congress in hopes they will side with the majority of Americans.
More than two-thirds of Americans say they would back a pathway to citizenship if illegal immigrants met criteria such as paying back taxes and fines and undergo a waiting period, according to a CBS News poll last month of 1,007 adults. In contrast, congressional Republicans have a favorability rating of a mere 28 percent, according an October poll conducted by Gallup.
With numbers like these, advocates say Republicans are bound to pay for their inaction on immigration reform in next year’s midterm election. The only way for the party to save face, they say, is to at least introduce a bill that focuses on legalizing the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in country.
“There is still time in 2013 [to pass immigration reform],” said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America’s Voice, one of the most vocal pro-reform groups in favor of a pathway to citizenship. “[Republicans] are always trying to look for excuses not to do their jobs. At least introduce a bill. ... We know the votes are there. It comes down to the will on the part of the Republicans.”
The will to overhaul the system is there for many in the right’s leadership as well as among its rank-and-file. However, since the issue of citizenship for the undocumented population is a sticking point and roundly dismissed by Republican constituents as “amnesty,” a vote for this kind of policy is sure to rile the conservative base and influence how it votes next year.
Far-right conservatives favor deportation, and that stance has influenced House-passed immigration bills such as the SAFE Act, or H.R. 2278, which focus on enforcement and border security.
Some in the GOP leadership have expressed public support for legal status for the undocumented population, but they have yet to produce a bill with that language.
“We know that if House leadership wants to get something done they can,” Bird said. “They can expand the session, work on weekends. The reality is they don’t want to. They are going to pay for this next year.”
Tea Party members of the GOP disagree. If a 2013 immigration reform bill fails to pass Congress before 2013 ends, according to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s camp, it will be due to President Barack Obama’s determination to reward those who broke the law by granting them citizenship.
“The main impediment to achieving a bipartisan breakthrough is the president’s insistence on a pathway to citizenship, which the senator regards as a non-starter,” wrote Sean Rushton, a Cruz spokesman, in a statement on Monday.
Still Rushton said Cruz, a Tea Party Republican from Texas, is “committed to passing immigration reform that starts with securing the border and that improves and streamlines the legal immigration system.” Cruz opposes citizenship for immigration law breakers but isn’t against giving legal status to the millions of undocumented presently in the country.
Cruz’s Tea party colleague, U.S. Sen. Macro Rubio of Florida, was instrumental in helping the Senate craft its comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the upper house in June. But with time fading and some hopes dashed, Rubio has told media outlets that he still wants to solve the problem of reform. From his perspective, the “go big” strategy is likely to have everyone going home empty handed.
“Sen. Rubio has always said that the House should be given the time and space to develop their own immigration reform proposals,” Rubio’s spokesman Alex Conant said. “It’s clear that Congress is not going to pass comprehensive legislation in the current political environment, but hopefully we can make progress on the more limited reforms on which there is consensus.”
But the advocates of reform say that without bills dealing with the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently here -- at least by offering some legal status -- “there’s nothing to talk about.”
“It’s in their best interest to move this,” Bird said. “We are not getting tired. The time is now. This is something that everybody wants.
“There’s a very small extremist minority that shouts very loud, not big in numbers,” she added. “I guess they are afraid of them when they should be afraid of the voters.”