Immigration advocates say Congress missed an opportunity to pass immigration reform this year. Now they predict it could take another year before there’s any real chance of passing legislation.
“I think there’s a chance in 2015,” Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said Wednesday during an immigration panel discussion. “At that time, there will be an incredible amount of pressure on the Republican Party to get right with Latino voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election.”
The panel discussion took place on the last day of the American Latino National Summit, which was organized by the New America Alliance Institute. The two-day summit was held in San Antonio.
Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, joined Noorani on the panel discussion and agreed that it could take another year for Congress to pass immigration reform legislation.
He said Republicans — who have taken most of the blame for Congress’ failure to pass immigration reform — will have to act on the issue before the 2016 presidential election in order to fare better among Latino voters.
“I think you have many who understand the importance of the Hispanic vote for the 2016 election, so there is an incentive for them to do something,” Aguilar said.
Joining Noorani and Aguilar on the panel discussion were several other immigration advocates who expressed their frustration with the House of Representatives’ inability to pass an immigration reform bill this year. The Senate approved its own bill last June, but the House Republican leadership rejected the bill.
Now, President Barack Obama is planning to bypass Congress and issue several executive orders on immigration. Those orders could come by the end of the summer, once Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson present Obama with a list of recommendations on what he can do to change deportation policies.
Immigration advocates have pressed Obama to take bold executive actions on immigration. One action they’ve pushed for includes having the president expand Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that protects undocumented youth from deportation and gives them work permits, to benefit more undocumented immigrants. The Obama administration has not ruled out the possibility of offering DACA-like relief and says it is carefully reviewing the existing law to see what actions Obama can take under the law.
Cristina Jimenez, co-founder and the managing director of United We Dream, said during Wednesday’s immigration panel discussion that she’s confident Obama “will step up and take leadership” on immigration because “this is his opportunity to regain the confidence of Latinos.”
“Every single Latino has been touched by this issue, because we know someone or have heard of someone that has been deported,” Jimenez said. “It has become a really personal issue for us.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has long supported immigration reform. During Wednesday’s panel discussion, Randy Johnson, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, joined the panel discussion and said the Chamber has called on Obama to take executive action on immigration that could help the business community meet their critical labor needs. But when it comes to other executive actions — especially expanding DACA — Johnson said the Chamber would not comment.
“I’ve looked at it,” he said of the possibility of expanding DACA, “but we’re not going to get involved.”
Meanwhile, other immigration advocates weighed in during the panel discussion on the possible consequences of having Obama take executive action on immigration.
Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA, said that if Obama provides work permits to millions of undocumented immigrants, then Republicans — if they take control of the House and Senate after the midterm elections — would likely move to pass bills that would ramp up immigration enforcement.
“It’s going to be like 1986 all over again,” Jacoby said. “That time, we did amnesty and we did enforcement, but we didn’t fix the system. And 20 years later, we came back to the same exact problem.”
Juan Hernandez, co-founder of the Hispanic Leadership Alliance, had a different opinion. He said Obama stands to “reap the political benefits” if he acts on immigration, just like he did in June 2012 when he announced DACA.
Hernandez explained that in early 2012, Sen. Marco Rubio began talking about crafting a bill to legalize Dreamers. But with the announcement of DACA, Obama essentially turned Rubio’s undrafted proposal into a reality through administrative action. As a result, Obama ended up getting a lot of support from Latino voters, who helped him get elected to a second term as president in 2012.
“That will happen again” if Republicans don’t act soon on immigration reform, Hernandez said.