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State of the Union: Congress and the President Still Falling Short on Immigration

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When President Obama ascended the dais in the House Chamber to deliver his annual State of the Union Address, senators and House members gathered before him shared with him a common reality: both the legislative and the administrative branches of our government have much more to do if economic equality and justice is to be achieved within our immigration system.

President Obama has strongly expressed support for commonsense immigration reform that includes an earned path to citizenship. But as the country waits for Congress to act, the administration's deportation machine keeps separating families at record speed, despite the president's moral responsibility and legal authority to use more discretion in its deportation policies.

Meanwhile, Congress -- specifically the House -- has failed miserably. Instead of heeding the fervent national call by voters, immigrant families, faith leaders, law enforcement, business and labor sectors, and immigrants' rights advocates to pass a bill that protects our families, workers, and the economy, the House has followed the lead of a myopic minority that refuses to accept immigrants for who they are: aspiring citizens who are part of the very fabric of our communities, economy, and society.

Meanwhile, conservatives in the Senate have made grotesque political sport of this issue, threatening to increase the tax burden on working families by cutting access to the Child Tax Credit in exchange for extending emergency unemployment insurance. Using the children of immigrants -- over 4 million U.S. citizens -- as a political football is immoral and economically unsound.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, who understands the need for broad immigration reform, is reasserting his leadership by crafting a set of principles for the GOP conference to consider. The framework could be an important step toward jump-starting the debate among House members who not only have blocked it, but have even crassly insulted immigrants.

House Republicans and Democrats must not squander this opportunity to create an immigration system that offers pragmatic, workable solutions. Starting from a place of detention, deportation, and scapegoating immigrants won't improve policy, nor will it win any friends in the Latino, Asian American, and African immigrant communities.

For example, police chiefs from across the U.S. warn that it would be "an unmitigated disaster" if Congress enacted the so-called "SAFE" Act, a bill that could allow each city, county, and state to create its own immigration policies, thus creating a dizzying and conflicting patchwork of them. The chiefs strongly argue that being required to enforce such policies would deplete their resources, undermine community policing, and actually make communities less safe. Congress must ask whether it really wants to go against the expert advice of law enforcers and risk community safety.

If another pending House bill, the Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 1772), were to become law, it would threaten the jobs and workplace protections of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens and authorized workers. H.R. 1772 would, within a few years, force every employer in the U.S. to use an error-ridden electronic system to verify the work eligibility of anyone they hire. Among other things, it would make the regular employment of a Friday night babysitter an activity the parent would have to clear with the government.

H.R. 1772, which lacks worker and due process protections, would do nothing to repair the broken immigration system and would instead hurt the broader economy by expanding the cash-driven underground economy, since employers and workers inevitably would seek to avoid the requirements it proposes.

Congress must not risk the job security of hundreds of thousands of workers as our economy climbs out of the Great Recession.

We do not know whether Speaker Boehner can muster the political will to bring a bipartisan immigration reform bill to the floor. No bill can pass without support from both sides.

But we know that Congress's failure has taken a devastating toll on families. Every day of inaction results in 1,100 immigrants being ripped apart from their families and communities through shameful detention and deportation policies.

The state of our union will be vastly improved when Congress does its job and reforms the immigration system. While Congress acts, President Obama must include administrative changes to the broken immigration system as part of the bold executive agenda the he shared in his speech. We agree with the president: with or without Congressional action, there is much he can do. We urge President Obama and Congress to act. Americans and aspiring citizens are waiting.