OPINION COLUMNS

Republicans should go all-in on immigration reform

By Kristin Ford, United We Dream | Published Saturday, July 27, 2013

This week, the House Judiciary Committee held an Immigration Subcommittee hearing to pave the way for a more restrictive version of President Obama’s DREAM Act. It’s called the KIDS Act – a yet-to-be-introduced legislative proposal to provide citizenship to some immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

While the House Republicans’ change in tone and inch forward on policy is a significant development, there is still a troubling lack of seriousness from the GOP on immigration. We have yet to see legislative text of the KIDS Act, but reports suggest many Republicans are prepared to provide a path to citizenship for some immigrant youth – but not for their parents.

Proposals like this are why United We Dream – the largest immigrant youth network in the country – is speaking out to reject attempts to divide DREAMers and their parents. Our nation, and our families, need comprehensive immigration reform, not measures that leave our families behind, stuck in permanent second-class status. We cannot accept a partial solution that would leave our parents vulnerable to deportation and tear even more families apart.

At the House hearing this week, many Republicans showed a marked change in tone towards DREAMers. As former immigration hardliner and Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) said about undocumented youth in his opening remarks, “We all view children as a special protected class.” But every single Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, save Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), voted to deport DREAMers just last month, when the House passed an amendment sponsored by noted anti-immigrant Rep. Steve King to de-fund President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Many of these same House Republicans also voted against the DREAM Act in 2010.

Neither the KIDS Act or the newly supportive rhetoric from Republicans is enough – especially in this new environment after the resounding impact of the Latino and immigrant community vote at the ballot box in 2012 and with the first real chance for comprehensive immigration reform in years.

As United We Dream coordinating committee member and hearing witness Rosa Velazquez explained, new rhetoric and cosmetic half-measures just won’t cut it.

“Such a solution would tell DREAMers like me that our hard-working parents are good enough to pick your crops, babysit your children, landscape your yard – and at the same time never be treated as equal members of this society.”

Those parents sacrificed much for their children to have a bright future in the U.S. The House should advance reforms that address not only the childrens’ status, but also provide a path to citizenship – not permanent second-class status – for their parents.

As the nation’s largest Spanish language newspaper, La Opini n, editorialized on the KIDS Act, “It is the height of hypocrisy to posture oneself as representing family integrity, while heartlessly promoting actions that divide the family home, whose human worth knows no borders… In reality, using Cantor’s own words, it is cruel and indecent to think that the young Dreamers would be satisfied with a measure that protects them but simultaneously deports their parents.”

Comments by Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King about DREAMers – saying there are more drug smugglers among them than valedictorians and accusing them of hauling marijuana across the desert – are beneath response. As influential Spanish language broadcast journalist Jorge Ramos said, “The vast majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are being considered to be legalized are not criminals or terrorists. It is a huge mistake to represent the Hispanic and immigrant community that way.

“They will decide who is going to be the next president in 2016. I really can’t understand why some members of the Republican Party would want to criticize the Hispanic community that way. There’s no question that the GOP has a huge immigrant problem. If it were only one Republican making comments like that, you could have argued it’s an isolated incident. But when you add that comment to others made by Joe Arpaio, Pete Wilson, Jan Brewer, it becomes a huge problem for the party as a whole.

“There’s a perception that the party is not interested in getting the Hispanic vote and does not understand Latinos.”

When it comes to immigration reform, much is at stake for both the Republican Party and the immigrant community. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his caucus can either give in to the Steve King wing or stand up and help pass reform with a real roadmap to citizenship for DREAMers and their families.

As the immigration debate continues in the House, Texans are looking for their representatives to lead on immigration. Will Reps. Ted Poe, Sam Johnson, Blake Farenthold and John Carter follow King, or will they commit to making citizenship a reality for millions of aspiring Americans? It’s time they stop with the games, get serious and let history happen.

Republicans have a choice before them: deliver a real solution on immigration, start to rebuild their political brand and have a shot at the 2016 presidential election; or step further and further away from mainstream America and the Latino and immigrant communities with cosmetic proposals that fall far short of what’s needed.

The KIDS Act is by no means the real reform our country so desperately needs. Republicans should be held accountable until they produce a bipartisan solution that actually addresses the fact that we have 11 million hard-working, contributing Americans without papers, who just want a shot at earning the rights and responsibilities associated with citizenship.

Kristin Ford is a senior communications strategist with United We Dream, an immigrant youth-led network with 51 affiliate organizations in 25 states. UWD’s purpose is to organize and advocate for the dignity and fair treatment of immigrant youth and families, regardless of immigration status.

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