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Time for President Obama to Act on Immigration

One year after the Senate passed the comprehensive immigration reform bill, the chances of immigration reform in Congress, according to immigrant rights activists, has slipped from slim to zero. The slow demise of immigration reform in what seemed to be the best time for it in three decades is owed to the staunch opposition of House Republicans.

When the 2013 legislative year ended, House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio said that immigration was top priority in 2014. The GOP even released their blueprint for immigration reform in January which adopted a step-by-step approach and conditioned the legal status being offered to the undocumented on border security and interior enforcement. However, Speaker Boehner later on backpedalled and said that they simply did not trust the President to enforce border security laws.

Despite the growing support and the intensified pressure for immigration reform, House Republicans refused to vote on an immigration bill. Speaker Boehner said that he won’t bring the Senate’s immigration reform bill up for a vote in his chamber. Meantime, the House would not go forward with its own version of the bill.

House Republicans have seemed to be coming up with new excuses not to support immigration reform, from the Affordable Care Act letdown to the most recent surge of young children illegally crossing the southwestern border. Fear from losing conservative votes come midterm election year weighed in even more with Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s loss in his Republican primary election.

The unrelenting stance of House Republicans has led some immigration rights advocates to believe that a shift in control of the House from Republicans to Democrats while holding the Senate and the White House, would be the only solution. According to the executive director of America’s Voice Frank Sharry, “Our biggest mistake was that we believed Republicans wanted to change course after the 2012 election. I don’t believe we will make that mistake again.”

President Obama, on his part, has become fed up with the GOP’s inaction and announced that the time has come for him to act on immigration. The President who earlier postponed releasing the results of the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s review of the deportation policies said that the review will be completed soon. The President said, “If Congress won’t do their job, at least we can do ours.”

Meanwhile, many states are initiating their own solutions for the undocumented. According to Frank Sharry, “A number of states are stepping into the vacuum saying let’s do what we can to make life more bearable for the immigrants living in our communities.”

Recently the New York City Council approved the use of municipal identification cards which will allow undocumented immigrants in the city to open bank accounts, sign apartment leases and gain access to services which require photo ID. With this legislation, New York joins Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New Haven, Connecticut, with large immigrant populations which have established municipal ID programs.

Also, immigrant groups have been pushing earlier this year to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s license in New York; however, Governor Cuomo said that it might not happen this year. It has been reported though that bills to change New York’s policy have been introduced in the Assembly and the Senate. At present, there are eleven states that have enacted laws providing driver’s license to the undocumented, namely, California, Washington state, New Mexico, Utah, Illinois, Nevada, Maryland, Oregon, Vermont, Connecticut and Colorado.

In addition, more states are allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates. California and Texas enacted the legislation way back in 2001. Today, eighteen states have enacted laws extending in-state tuition rates to the undocumented.

Meanwhile, Senator Gustavo Rivera (D-New York) also introduced a bill that would grant citizenship to New York’s undocumented immigrants who can establish that they live in the State and paid taxes for the last three years. The bill did not make it in New York’s legislative session, however, according to Senator Rivera, it could serve as a model for other state legislators.

House Republicans agree that the immigration system is broken and needs fixing; however, they refuse to offer a permanent legislative fix. States have already acted. With the President stepping in, it is expected that a solution to immigration may well be underway.

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