Inaction on immigration reform will have negative consequences for the mostly white, male-dominated Republican Party during next year’s election, according to a group of protesters who vowed Saturday to vote Illinois’ GOP congressional delegates out of office if they do not work towards passing legislation that would overhaul the nation’s broken immigration system.
“Give us a vote on citizenship or risk extinction,” read flyers left outside of U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam's (R, IL-6) downtown Chicago office doors Saturday as more than 50 immigration reform advocates chanted, “Remember November!”
Less than a month ago, House Democrats introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would create a pathway to citizenship for America’s more than 11 million undocumented immigrants. But Republican House leaders have not acted on the legislation.
Activists at the demonstration said if GOP leadership and Roskam, Illinois' top House Republican and the chamber's chief deputy whip, continue to be “anti-immigrant,” they will alienate themselves from minority communities, who voted in record numbers in the last election.
“We are here today to send a clear message to Speaker Boehner and leader Roskam, that we want a vote on immigration reform and we want it now,” said Lawrence Benito, CEO of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR). “We want republicans to remember November. Latinos, Asians and immigrant voters will not forget and will not forgive their inaction on immigration reform.”
Introduced by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D, CA-12), the bill, H.R. 15, has 185 Democratic co-sponsors, but faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled chamber. Just one Republican, U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham of California, has co-sponored the legislation. The bill is nearly identical to the bipartisan immigration reform package passed by the Senate in June.
House Speaker John Boehner (R, OH-8) snubbed the Senate’s legislation shortly after the bill was passed. Instead of considering the bipartisan legislation, GOP leaders are working on immigration reform proposals in a piecemeal fashion.
Nonetheless, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D, IL-9), who attended a rally at First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple before protesters marched to Roskam’s office, said she is optimistic about immigration reform legislation passing by the end of the year.
“The Republican brand is so discredited right now,” she said in an interview with Progress Illinois, referencing the 16-day government shutdown that pushed Republican approval ratings to an all-time low.
“They have not offered an alternative [to immigration reform] at all, and they don’t have any suggestions of their own," Schakowsky said. "They need to prove that they can govern and not just obstruct. They need to show they can get something done, and immigration reform is so widely supported, they need to do it."
Of the 435 members in the House, immigration reform needs support from a simple majority of 218 delegates to pass.
Schakowsky, who co-sponsored the House bill, said the votes are there for its passage.
“If Boehner would just call it, the bill would pass,” she said. “There’s no more time for phony excuses.
In the 2012 presidential election, 72 percent of voters were white, but one out of every 10 was Hispanic, according to exit polls. Only 27 percent of Hispanics voted for Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
“We send our leaders to Washington D.C. to show leadership, not to hide,” said Benito, who added that a lack of action from "out-of-touch" Republicans will hurt the party in future elections.
While the GOP stalls the passage of immigration reform legislation, families are being ripped apart by deportations, Benito stressed. More than 400,000 people were deported last year, which is a record-breaking figure that equates to some 1,100 individuals leaving the country every day.
“We want immigration reform and we want it now,” Benito said.
The House Democrat's proposal, which has been assigned to committees in the lower chamber, includes border and interior enforcement, but removes the Senate bill's controversial Corker-Hoeven amendment. The new proposal substitutes the Corker-Hoeven amendment with a bipartisan border security plan that unanimously passed out of the House Homeland Security Committee in mid-May, and would set up specific metrics for measuring border security.
“This immigration bill is not perfect, but it’s a start,” said Foster, who pointed out that 78 percent of likely Illinois voters support a streamlined path to citizenship. The congressman also noted that Roskam’s northeastern district is home to a rapidly growing immigrant population.
"How long can Congress continue to ignore the calls for comprehensive immigration reform," asked Foster, whose wife is a first-generation Asian-American.
In a statement in June, Roskam said that before immigration reform is implemented, Congress should first “discourage future waves of illegal immigration.” That same month, he supported an amendment to the House's 2014 Department of Homeland Security spending bill that would have defunded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants a two-year deferral of deportation for undocumented immigrants who came to the states at a young age.
"It is past time for Congress to stop ignoring this critical issue and take action," Foster said. "We've got to keep the pressure on and let them know that doing nothing is not an option."