A popular immigration reform bill passed the Senate a year ago and still awaits action in the House. Meanwhile, a tragic humanitarian crisis has emerged on our doorstep, demanding a swift and humane response. Yet the House Republicans, who have long stood in the way of sensible action on immigration reform, have fashioned a single response to both: Deport the kids.Nine years ago, Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy introduced a thoughtful, bipartisan approach to modernizing our immigration system and strengthening border security known as “Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” From the beginning, this approach has maintained an unusually broad coalition of support, from evangelical ministers to national labor unions.
Both Democratic and Republican presidents have supported it, and in a time of intense polarization, it has passed the Senate twice with wide bipartisan margins. The current Senate bill is projected to grow the economy by 5% over 20 years, and take almost a trillion dollars off our deficit. Far from being a divisive issue, immigration reform has been something of an oasis in an unusually polarized era.
But not in the House. The only immigration-related bill the House has passed in this Congress has been the “King Amendment,” a provision that would revoke the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – a program that has given 600,000 DREAM-eligible youth temporary legal status, protection from deportation, and permission to work in the United States. Revoking DACA would strip these kids of this legal status and make them available for immediate deportation. In other words: Deport the kids.
In recent months, a crisis has unfolded along our border, providing another powerful reminder of the need to modernize our antiquated immigration system. The administration has proposed a simple, straight-forward set of actions to address the crisis, which require congressional approval. But so far, weeks after Obama outlined his plan, the only idea gaining traction in the House is a change in a Bush-era law that would make it easier to deport the minors being apprehended at the border. Again, the Republican answer is simply this: Deport the kids. (And some extra border security, too.)
The nativist response of the House Republicans to our ongoing immigration challenge is not only an incredible disappointment to all Americans who would benefit from a more modern immigration system, but should be terrifying to the national leaders of the Republican Party. In 2005-2006, the Senate passed a broad bipartisan immigration reform bill. Like today, the House Republican response was to pass a bill calling for more deportations – this time for the deportation of all 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S.The impact on the critical Hispanic vote was dramatic. In the 2006 elections, Hispanics voted 70% to 30% for the Democrats, reversing hard fought gains by President Bush, who had increased the GOP’s Hispanic vote share from 21%to 40%. This 70%-30% ratio in Democrats’ favor is where the Hispanic vote has remained for the last two presidential elections, an outcome which makes it virtually impossible for the GOP to win another national election.
But what the House GOP is doing now is even worse, and potentially far more damaging for its brand with Hispanics. Not only are Republicans responding exactly as they did in 2006 – choosing deportation over bipartisan reform – they are now cruelly fighting to change laws to strip existing legal rights available to both DACA residents and the minors at the border to make them eligible for rapid deportation.In 2005-2006, the House GOP only voted to deport unauthorized immigrants, not those with legal right under current law to be here. This is an escalation.
Add to this the fact that the House GOP is actively supporting a broader policy agenda more hostile to Hispanics than at any time in recent memory. Repealing Obamacare would hit Hispanic families harder than any other group of Americans. Estimates are that as many as 10 million Hispanic families will gain health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, a number that is perhaps greater than the number of families who will be effected by the implementation of the Senate immigration bill. The House GOP is also on record for cutting funds for public schools, blocking increases in the minimum wage and making it harder for people to vote – all things which would disproportionately affect Hispanic voters in the US.
For nine years, the anti-immigrant politics practiced by House Republicans have been irresponsible and reckless both for the country and their own political interests. It would be wise for the GOP to seize this new moment and work with the Senate to adopt comprehensive immigration reform and bring the border crisis under control. Deporting kids is not just a ridiculous response to a vexing national problem – it is a response likely to relegate Republicans to a minority party for years to come.
Simon Rosenberg runs NDN/NPI, a liberal think tank in Washington, D.C. He has worked on passing immigration reform through Congress since its introduction in 2005.