By Rachel White
President Barack Obama and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agree on one thing: No legislation will be passed by 2016 without bipartisan compromise.
But on Wednesday, just one day after the midterm elections that gave Senate control to the GOP come January, President Obama furthered the divide between Republicans and Democrats in Washington by renewing the vow he made in September to reform immigration policy by the end of the year, by executive action if necessary.
Obama said in a news conference Wednesday he is still committed to working toward making life better for undocumented immigrants by decreasing deportations, granting work permits and improving border security.
“It’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull,” McConnell said in his first news conference as future Senate Majority Leader.
McConnell said that if Obama exercises executive powers to reform immigration it would tarnish the relationship he’s attempting to build between the President and the Republican-controlled House and Senate come January.
“It’s an issue a lot of my members want to address legislatively,” McConnell said Wednesday.
McConnell was speaking for Republican constituents as well as his political peers. William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration, agrees with McConnell. He said if Obama announces immigration reform without Congress’s approval, he “plan[s] to peacefully but physically intervene” by staging protests and “60s style sit-ins” at places that support reform.
Americans for Legal Immigration is a super PAC that has spent $252,017 promoting its agenda this year. ALIPAC supports legal immigration but does not support amnesty, visa expansion, or a visiting worker program for undocumented immigrants, according to their website.
Gheen said ALIPAC’s supporters would rather Congress focus on enforcing and strengthening the U.S. southern border.
“I cannot think of a more important issue than immigration,” Gheen said Wednesday.
The dispute over reform has people on both sides of the issue dismayed. Immigrant advocacy groups fear that Obama’s announcement won’t be enough to help the majority of undocumented people living in the U.S.
“I don’t think it’s going to be anything major,” said Luis Gutierrez, director of Latinos Progresando, an advocacy group that provides low-cost legal services as well as community engagement and education amenities to immigrants in Chicago. Gutierrez is not related to U.S. Congressman Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL).
He said Wednesday he expects that the President’s announcement will help those who have not committed a crime and have been in the country for longer than 10 years or have a child who is a U.S. citizen, but “many people will feel left out,” he said.
Gutierrez grew up in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, where Latinos Progresando is now located. It’s a predominantly Latino neighborhood that has a high population of immigrants.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has estimated that 10.8 million undocumented immigrants lived in the United States as of January 2010 — an estimated 490,000 of those undocumented immigrants live in Illinois.
Gutierrez said his community is hoping for the announcement to allow access to work permits and travel for undocumented immigrants. “That would be a fantastic thing,” he said.
Obama’s Latino constituents are angry with him for delaying immigration reform until after the midterm elections. When the President announced the delay in September, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) urged Obama not to wait.
“Keeping the fear of deportation hovering over immigrant communities like Pilsen and Little Village in my district in Chicago has a damaging impact on the fabric of our community,” the Congressman said on the floor of the House of Representatives in September.Gutierrez from Latinos Progresando agrees with the Congressman, “Fear of deportation causes extreme hardship,” he said.
As a result he said Latinos could change their voting habits. Historically most Latinos vote for Democratic candidates. “They’re interested in somebody who’s going to get it done…[Latinos] are looking for a candidate that is talking about reform,” Latinos Progresando Director Gutierrez said.
Rep. Gutiérrez said in September that Obama had decided that “going big, going broad, and going quickly after Election Day is the right decision.”
In an opinion piece for the Guardian Wednesday, Rep. Gutierrez wrote that President Obama should use his executive powers to address immigration policy and deportation. “I will hold President Obama to his promise on doing what he can towards fixing our broken immigration system.
“In a few weeks, a new do-nothing Congress will replace the current do-nothing Congress, but not much will change on the immigration issue,” he wrote. “The Senate passed bipartisan legislation that would have addressed a broad range of fixes for the nation’s immigration system, but that legislation will die once the new Congress is sworn in.”
The reform announcement is expected by early December, but President Obama said if Congress can work together to produce a bill, then he wouldn’t be forced to act alone.
“I have no doubt that there will be some Republicans who are angered or frustrated by any executive action that I may take,” Obama said Wednesday.
If Obama uses executive action, Republicans have threatened impeachment and said bipartisan legislation on other issues would be unlikely.
“Those are folks, I just have to say, who are also deeply opposed to immigration reform, in any form, and blocked the House from being able to pass a bipartisan bill,” Obama said Wednesday.