THE BLOG
06/15/2013 01:00 am ET Updated Aug 15, 2013

House Loses Memo on How to Succeed on Immigration Reform

A year ago on June 15, President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which temporarily halted deportation proceedings for young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children without documents. Days later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government, not states, has supreme authority over immigration law and enforcement.

Then, in November, Latino voters proved that immigration is a gateway issue to earn the Latino vote.

A year after the president announced DACA, the Republican-controlled House seems not to have read -- or to have lost -- the memo on what makes good immigration policy. The House has embarked on a destructive political and policy strategy that rejects the events of the last year.

The House Judiciary Committee will soon mark up a bill that is exactly the wrong prescription for immigration reform. It would undo the Supreme Court's ruling and place enforcement decisions in the hands of state and local police, without federal oversight.

The proposal, advanced by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), would, in effect, create a patchwork of hundreds of immigration regimes across the country, leaving to the federal government only the responsibility to remove non-citizens from the U.S. The result would be a single-minded focus on locating, detaining, and aiding in the deportation of immigrants, likely leading to racial profiling and other violations of basic constitutional rights.

This aggressive move follows a recent, near party line vote in the full House effectively to stop the DACA program and place DREAMers on the highway to deportation.

That vote demonstrates why the House strategy is wrong.

DACA is a humanitarian program for hundreds of thousands of young, law-abiding aspiring citizens -- our future engineers, teachers, community leaders, and lawyers.

The program came about because Congress failed to enact the DREAM Act, which the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) has been advocating for since 2001. Having arrived as children, DREAMers know no other country; they are American in every respect except immigration status.

Advancing their cause through the only democracy they know, DREAMers held rallies, wrote letters to policy makers, engaged in civil disobedience, ran social media campaigns, and pressured the White House and Congress to act. Their work led to President Obama's June 15 announcement.

It was a life-changing moment for young immigrants and for the immigrants' rights movement. Indeed, it is one of the recent policy victories in the U.S. that was fought and won by the very individuals directly affected.

DACA is a proven success. It has shown how the federal government can meet the administrative challenges of carrying out a new program -- a preview of what it will face if Congress does its job and overhauls the broken immigration system. As of April, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had granted deferred action to 57 percent or 291,859 applicants of the 515,922 applications.

Among those who qualified is an immigration policy attorney who works alongside former DREAMers at NILC to help prospective DACA applicants, troubleshoot with the Department of Homeland Security, and help shape the contours of future immigration policy now under consideration in Congress.

The temporary nature of DACA and the lack of citizenship for these aspiring Americans underscore the need for commonsense immigration reform with a road to citizenship, not only for young immigrants, but also for their parents, other family members and the 11 million undocumented immigrants now in the U.S. who would qualify under the pending bipartisan Senate immigration bill, S. 744.

The DACA anniversary marks the progress the nation has made in updating our immigration system. The program has shown what is possible when an administration stands behind its commitment to treat aspiring citizens with respect and update immigration laws for the benefit our families, communities, economy, and national heritage.

Unfortunately, House conservatives continue to stand in the way of progress, and House leadership risks taking the rest of their party deep into the political woods.

House Speaker Boehner and others have a choice: they can continue to portray themselves as leaders of an anti-immigrant, anti-Latino, anti-Asian party, or they can choose to engage those who want to create an immigration system that's worthy of this great country.

DREAMers have shown the way forward. It's up to Congress to follow their lead.

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