WASHINGTON -- The biggest advocate for comprehensive immigration reform put the final nail in its coffin on Wednesday, declaring on the House floor that House Republicans' time is up and that instead, the president himself should move to limit deportations.
"I gave you the warning three months ago, and now I have no other choice," Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said. "You're done. ... Having been given ample time and space to craft legislation, you failed. The president now has no other choice but to act within existing law to ensure that our deportation policies are humane."
While prospects for immigration reform have been dim for months, some supporters have continued to say publicly there’s still hope for the House of Representatives to move on the issue. President Barack Obama delayed a review of his deportation policy in order to give House Republicans more time to act, and reform architects Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) said even as recently as Wednesday morning that they weren’t ready to give up.
Gutierrez has advocated for the president to limit deportations, but he accepted Obama's decision to delay the review. He previously said the House would have until the July Fourth recess to move on immigration reform, given the few legislative days left and the upcoming midterm elections. On Wednesday, he said the countdown was over. The House will adjourn on Thursday and won’t be back in Washington until July 8, leaving only seven weeks in session until the November elections.
At this point, Gutierrez said, the president should move forward in slowing the rate of deportations. He gave House Republicans a metaphorical red card for stalling on reform.
"Leave the field," he said. "Too many flagrant offenses and unfair attacks, and too little action. You're out, hit the showers."
The Obama administration hasn't indicated whether it has given up on the House. But White House spokesman Josh Earnest acknowledged on Tuesday that the administration hasn't seen any movement on the issue. He was asked at a press briefing whether the White House has seen signs the GOP plans to act on immigration in the window Obama gave them for this summer.
"Sadly, no," he replied.
Gutierrez’s comments stood in contrast to statements made by Schumer and McCain hours before. The senators were members of the so-called “gang of eight” that drafted a comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate almost a year ago, on July 27, 2013. Speaking at an event hosted by the Wall Street Journal, McCain and Schumer said they're going to continue to press House Republicans to move forward.
"I can’t tell you ... that we have a great shot at it, but I know the consequences of failure, which will motivate me to continue to try no matter what," McCain said.
Reform has been complicated by two recent events, although it hadn’t seemed likely to move even before they happened. One was the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) in his Republican primary June 10. Although his loss likely wasn’t entirely about immigration, his opponent, Dave Brat, campaigned largely on the accusation that Cantor was for “amnesty.” Within minutes of Cantor’s defeat, pundits were declaring reform eventually dead, positing that House Republicans wouldn’t address the issue after seeing it could be so politically damaging.
The other issue that has hurt reform's chances is a recent humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border, where 52,000 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended crossing illegally since the beginning of the fiscal year last October. Many Republicans, particularly those in the House, laid the blame for the crisis on Obama, saying he encouraged illegal immigration through policies such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA. DACA allows undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children before June 2007 to stay and work for two or more years.
Republicans have said that DACA and immigration reform giving legal status to undocumented immigrants simply encourages more to come. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) drafted a letter to Obama saying that moving forward with the deportation review would draw more unauthorized immigrants into the United States.
"Your continued commitment to circumvent Congress and implement policies contrary to the intent of immigration law sends foreign nationals the false hope that administrative amnesty is possible," he wrote.