Immigration reform may not be easy to pass, but that’s no reason to give up the fight, President Barack Obama said last Thursday in his White House speech.
The president made his long-awaited return to the issue in a brief White House speech urging advocates to keep the pressure on House Republicans to take action on the Senate’s immigration bill, saying that only public pressure will lead to action.
Obama said: “Just because something is smart and fair and good for the economy and fiscally responsible and supported by business and labor and evangelical community and many Democrats and many Republicans, that does not mean that it will actually get done,” Obama said. “This is Washington, after all.”
The President’s speech comes as the White House deals with the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov. The return to immigration reform comes weeks after the White House said in September it would soon make a renewed effort to back comprehensive immigration reform. That push was delayed while Obama dealt with the government shutdown and debt limit crisis this month.
Obama’s call for the House to vote on the Senate-passed bill represents his effort to duplicate what his allies saw as a victory on the fiscal showdown – get legislation that can be labeled bipartisan through the Senate and then try to apply public pressure to force it through the House.
Many Republicans have supported immigration reform, Obama said. As he said during the shutdown fight, Obama implied that just a small faction of House Republicans is blocking progress.
“We’ve got the time to do it. Republicans in the House, including the speaker, have said we should act. So let’s not wait,” said Obama. “It doesn’t get easier to just put it off. Let’s do it now, let’s not delay, let’s get this done and let’s do it in a bipartisan fashion.”
Although that approach worked for the fiscal cliff in January and to end the shutdown this month, those crises featured hard deadlines that carried the threat of fiscal calamity. Immigration reform does not.
As the Senate debated immigration reform for months earlier this year, Obama kept a low public profile because White House and Senate aides felt that the legislation had a better chance to proceed without an appearance of the president being directly involved.
Now with the House GOP leadership calling for a “step-by-step approach” instead of the comprehensive solution Obama is seeking, the president is shifting from the inside approach that won votes in the Senate to an outside push to pressure House Republicans.
Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman said the House would not be calling a vote on the Senate’s immigration bill any time soon. “The Speaker agrees that America has a broken immigration system and we need reform that would boost our economy,” spokesman Brendan Buck said. “He’s also been clear that the House will not consider any massive, Obamacare-style legislation that no one understands. Instead, the House is committed to a common sense, step-by-step approach that gives Americans confidence that reform is done the right way. We hope that the president will work with us — not against us — as we pursue this deliberate approach.”
Obama, who would like to keep advocates from blaming the White House for its failure to pass a reform bill, praised the gathered immigration reformers for their work and urged them to keep up pressure on House Republicans.
“I want to tell you, you’ve got to keep it up. Keep putting the pressure on all of us to get this done,” Obama said. “There are going to be moments, and there are always moments like this in big efforts at reform where you meet resistance and the press will declare something dead, it’s not going to happen, but that can be overcome.”
Obama’s comment: “You look fired up to make the next push” brought applause from the audience.
Meanwhile, Speaker John Boehner was non-committal about bringing an immigration reform bill to the House floor this year. Speaking Wednesday morning after a closed party meeting at the Capitol Hill Club, Boehner said immigration reform is an “important subject that needs to be addressed, and I’m hopeful” that something could happen before the end of the year.
The Senate passed a comprehensive overhaul bill over the summer.
In the House of Representatives, meanwhile, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said he has plans to unveil what he calls a "come-from-the-shadows" bill on immigration, which would extend a 6-year legal status to many of the nation's 11.7 million undocumented immigrants and allow them to travel freely to their country of origin. The House Republican said on Wednesday that the proposal was "halfway between full amnesty and simply rejecting people", adding, "I think if we're going to break this logjam that's occurred for my whole 13 years I've been in Congress, we have to find middle ground."
Here's a fact that anti-immigrant zealots want to deny: immigration reform already has the votes it needs to pass through the House of Representatives. The problem is that House Republican leadership -- Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy -- are stalling the process by refusing to allow a vote. These three men are standing in the way of eleven (11) million of our brothers and sisters! We must make them understand that our families and our country will not stand for more excuses!
Eleven million undocumented Americans remain without any way to access legalization and eventual citizenship. Many of them have immediate family who are U.S. citizens.
Deportations continue to tear apart thousands of families each day. Yet these three men still refuse to allow a vote on a reform bill. We cannot allow them to delay progress any longer. It's time for them to do what the President, many Senators and Congresspersons and, most importantly, a majority of Americans demand and allow a vote on legalization and eventual citizenship now!
Daniel E. Chavez is a Northern California Immigration Law Attorney. If you have questions or need to speak to Mr. Chavez about your specific immigration legal matter, call 707-775-4531 or email his law firm directly.