Remarks of Janet Murguía at NCLR Capital Awards

As prepared for delivery at the 2015 NCLR Capital Awards, Washington, DC

This year began with the convening of a new Congress. Republicans had campaigned for, and won, a majority in both houses and promised to take the country in a new direction. Their leadership vowed a more productive approach to governing that wouldn’t scare the American people by shutting down the government.

Except, apparently, when it comes to the Latino community.

It took just eight days for the majority of Republicans in the newly convened House to threaten homeland security funding by voting to block the president’s executive order on immigration.

To make sure their intentions were clear, they also voted to repeal the highly successful program that provides temporary status to the children and young people known as “DREAMers.”

And it wasn’t just Republicans in Congress who led the charge. Republican governors and attorneys general led a coalition of 26 states to file suit against the president’s executive action. They shopped for and found a sympathetic judge who ignored years of legal precedent to halt the executive order.

If I was being charitable, I might chalk these measures up as a political poke in President Obama’s eye.

But, to be honest, this doesn’t feel like just that.

This feels like it is about us—that when it comes to Hispanics and their families, too many in the Republican Party simply don’t care. They don’t care about the human toll their inaction has on our community. They don’t care how many of our children will lose a parent. They don’t care about the financial devastation they cause to our families and our communities.

I suspected as much last year when Speaker Boehner turned his back on bipartisan immigration reform. His refusal to allow a vote on a bill that had already passed the Senate—and had the votes to pass in the House—was a clear sign that there is no real solution that their party is willing to support.

Think about this week’s standoff in Congress, which thankfully ended this afternoon. What kind of statement does it make that pro-defense House Republicans would put our national security at risk rather than allow any amount of relief on immigration?

To Speaker Boehner I have this to say:

You avoided catastrophe today, but we’ve been at this for over a decade. You keep saying “no.” Any attempt to resolve our broken immigration system is always “dead on arrival.” No matter how much the American public supports a solution, the answer is always “no.” Even when the votes in Congress are there for passage, you block it.

Where is your solution? Where is your bill?

You talk about family values, but when it comes to our families, you sit idly by and watch as hundreds of thousands of mothers and fathers are taken from their children.

You talk about rewarding work but stand by as our families are thrown into poverty by the sudden and permanent loss of a breadwinner.

What kind of solution is that? What kind of life does that leave for those children—those American children—now that you’ve left them virtually orphaned? How does that improve our communities, our schools, our safety?

Many in the immigrant community have been here so long that they have put down roots in our cities and towns. They’ve married into our families and are now the parents of our grandchildren.

To us, they are family. Our family. Our American family. They are us.

Maybe you don’t see it. Maybe you believe the trumped-up extremist rhetoric that paints all undocumented immigrants as criminals, or even terrorists.

But, if you could see them through our eyes, you would know that the vast majority are hardworking mothers and fathers, neighbors and friends. They are the people who work beside us, who care for our children, and sit next to us in church on Sundays.

Every time you say no to reform it bears a real cost, a human cost, to countless families and their children.

Yet I hear no word of understanding about their suffering. I hear not a syllable of remorse. I see no sense of urgency to address this issue.

Instead, you chose to hide behind words like “sequestration,” “overreach,” and “filibuster.” Those words may have some value as a fig leaf inside the beltway. But what they say to the millions of people who are waiting for a solution is that our families don’t matter. You may think you were just stalling legislation, but for those people living in fear, you have kept their lives—and our community—in limbo.

President Obama stepped into the vacuum you left last year and issued an executive order on immigration.

When his action is upheld by a higher court—and it will be upheld—the steps he took will go a long way to end the nightmare that many face every day.

Families will stay together. Parents will continue to work and provide for their children. Communities and businesses will stop being turned upside down.

And millions will no longer live in fear, but will have the chance to get right with the law.

How can that not be good for America?

Regardless of what the courts do, the president’s order will still have a significant impact. U.S. immigration enforcement will now focus on actual threats to our security. As the president said, our priorities will be “felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.”

That, in and of itself, is a tremendous leap forward.

He deserves an enormous amount of credit for acting boldly and responsibly. And for that we say, thank you, Mr. President.

As a nonpartisan organization, we lay out a table of bipartisanship every year at this dinner, in the belief that compromise can be made and members of both parties can feel welcome working with our community.

NCLR has received the support of many Republicans over the years including on our Board of Directors, our Corporate Board of Advisors, and among our Affiliates. We have worked in collaboration with many leaders, including the late Honorable Jack Kemp, Senators John McCain and Mel Martinez, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and our guest tonight, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart.

They fought beside us to expand economic opportunity, champion human dignity, and help us pursue the American Dream. And we are grateful for their support.

And we have the support of most Republicans in this country. Fifty-one percent of Republican voters in a recent poll support a path to citizenship.

But, there is a malignancy in the Republican Party, and it is growing.

There was a time when the extreme views surrounding the immigration debate came only from the party’s extremists. Today, the extreme has become the Republican Party mainstream, and their rhetoric falls too readily from the lips of candidates at the national, state, and local levels.

That such rhetoric can have an impact should not be surprising. The political self-assessment published by the Republican Party after the last presidential election was unusually blunt.

As former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey said in this report, “We’ve chased the Hispanic voter out of his natural home.”

They should have listened to their own words.

The Republican Party’s blockade of any type of progress on immigration—whether in a bipartisan bill or the president’s executive order—sends a brutal message to our community.

Make no mistake. Our complaint is not partisan. It’s personal. The Republican blockade against reform is having a searing impact on our community.

And these actions will have political consequences. Candidates are already testing the waters for the next presidential campaign. Soon they will be asking for our vote—and with good reason.

The Latino vote is the fastest-growing voting bloc in the country. Some 14 million Latinos will vote in 2016.

We have already demonstrated that we can shake up the road to the White House. Next year we will also be looking at how our vote can impact Senate races in states like Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Missouri.

Candidates in those states and across the country have a choice. They can continue to follow the strategy that Pete Wilson used in California to marginalize our community—with predictable results—or they can step up to help us change the course of history.

One out of every four children born in this country is Latino. And every year for the next 20 years, nearly a million Hispanics will turn 18 and be eligible to vote.

You don’t need me to do the math.

How our community is valued today—by this Congress—matters. Absent a significant change, the Republican Party stands to lose the Latino vote for a generation.

It is in our nation’s interest that we find a way forward. The president’s executive action is a temporary fix to a complex problem. Even when his order is implemented, there will still be some five million people living outside the rule of law. Only Congress can craft a permanent solution.

Fortunately, the framework for a bipartisan bill exists. A majority of Americans from both parties support its passage. And I believe that if we can work together, we can find a way to move forward.

In America, every person’s dignity should be valued. Every child should come home from school knowing their parents will be there. Every worker should be able to earn a wage that supports their family. And every one of us should be able to pursue the American Dream.

But to succeed, we need a Republican Party that understands the human cost of saying “no.”

We need a Republican Party that sees beyond short-term politics to collaborate on a long-term solution. We need a Republican Party that can see our community the way we see it—as an integral part of this country and a critical part of its future.

This Week in Immigration Reform — Week Ending Jan. 15

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This week in immigration reform: the House Republican leadership proceeds with votes to block administrative relief; groups file briefs in state lawsuit supporting executive action; and the Migration Policy Institute releases new county-level data on DACA and DAPA eligible populations.

NCLR kept the community informed on immigration with staff quoted in The Hill, Arizona Daily StarUnivision, andEFE.

House amendment votes show Republican leadership is interested in moving backwards instead of proposing necessary solutions: This week, the House of Representatives passed a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the fiscal year. Attached to the bill were five amendments gutting the president’s administrative relief, reinstating the detrimental Secure Communities program, defunding DACA, and requiring local authorities to honor immigration-detainers.

Click on the following links to find how your Representative voted:

The Aderholt amendment to block and defund the executive actions passed 236-190.

The Blackburn amendment to block and defund DACA narrowly passed 218-209.

Final passage of the bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, as amended, passed 236-161.

NCLR president and CEO Janet Murguía reacted in a press statement saying, “The House Republican leadership and Caucus may believe that they voted against the president today, but they actually voted against the millions of American families whose loved ones are working very hard to get right with the law. And they voted against millions more, including the majority of Americans who strongly support the substance of the president’s policy.

She continued, “Adding insult to injury, House Republicans voted to undo the one program in the last two decades that has done anything to help resolve our immigration issue, gratuitously harming hundreds of thousands of young people who are now able to make stronger contributions to our economy and communities. Our country has seen the benefit of helping DREAMers, as it will see the myriad benefits of helping families through administrative relief. That is why these efforts to take away relief will not stand.”

The DHS funding bill now moves to the Senate, where passage is anything but guaranteed. Even if the new Republican majority in the Senate can garner enough votes for passage, President Obama has already stated he will veto any legislation that would undermine administrative relief. This week, NCLR posted a blog to encourage our community to continue preparing documents and resources to apply for deferred action, even in light of the politicking in Congress.

Local law enforcement officers among the groups submitting briefs in the lawsuit regarding President Obama’s relief for five million immigrants: Just yesterday, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen heard arguments in the lawsuit from states over executive action. No ruling was issued and no date was set for an additional hearing or a ruling. While the case might take weeks or months to resolve, there is broad support for administrative relief. An article from The Hill finds that the American people are not only supportive of the goal of President Obama’s executive action, but they in fact support the very action itself. A CBS News poll found that 55% of Americans say Congress should permit executive action to remain in place.

In addition to general public support, law enforcement officers, including the Austin Police Chief, the Major Cities Chiefs Association and numerous Texas sheriffs, are making a case for administrative relief. They submitted a brief, noting that new provisions under the president’s executive action enhance officer-community relations because those enforcing the law cannot do so if their communities do not cooperate with them. President Obama directed DHS to end the harmful Secure Communities program and to replace it with the Priority Enforcement Program, which seeks to rebuild trust between immigrants and their local law enforcement. Read more and find a link to the brief in this article.

In addition to law enforcement, numerous civil rights and advocacy organizations filed an amicus brief in support of administrative relief. An American Immigration Council press release indicates the brief includes testimonials of individuals who will benefit from the President’s action, including entrepreneurs and community leaders. Twelve states also filed a legal analysis in the case, explaining why the president has the authority to provide deportation relief for millions of families and how that action will economically benefit states. Read more and find a link to the brief in thisarticle.

Resource – Migration Policy Institute releases new DACA/DAPA numbers: NCLR, our Affiliates and other organizations are already preparing to assist with applications for the expanded DACA program and the new DAPA program. This week, MPI released a new data tool with data on those potentially eligible for administrative relief, including breakdowns for the top 94 counties with the largest unauthorized populations. Look up the county you serve to find out about educational attainment, English proficiency and other attributes that will inform the unique challenges affecting outreach to our community.

House Republicans Begin New Congress by Voting Against American Families

DREAMers_cantwaitOne of the first orders of business for the brand new Congress today was to undo President Obama’s administrative relief for certain undocumented immigrants. In a series of votes nearly along party lines, representatives sought to undo the president’s program through amendments to the funding measure for the Department of Homeland Security. Members also voted to end the highly successful Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides temporary legal status to DREAMers. We condemn these votes and are resolved to fight them and other similar proposals.

In a statement released shortly after the vote, NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía expressed her disappointment:

“The House Republican leadership and Caucus may believe that they voted against the president today, but they actually voted against the millions of American families whose loved ones are working very hard to get right with the law. And they voted against millions more, including the majority of Americans who strongly support the substance of the president’s policy.

“Adding insult to injury, House Republicans voted to undo the one program in the last two decades that has done anything to help resolve our immigration issue, gratuitously harming hundreds of thousands of young people who are now able to make stronger contributions to our economy and communities. I cannot think of a more substantively offensive and politically disastrous step for Republicans to take at this moment in time. It is no secret that the GOP is in a severe deficit when it comes to the Latino community and the Hispanic vote; it is a well-known fact among the many Republicans who support a sensible and effective immigration solution, and polling confirms it.”

The Latino community will not forget that House Republicans actively worked to begin the 114th Congress with a political stunt meant to crush the hope given to families without any plausible alternatives in return.

Stay updated with the latest immigration news. Join our Action Network today!

This Week in Immigration Reform — Week Ending Dec. 5

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Week Ending December 5

This week in immigration reform: the House of Representatives denounces the president’s recently announced executive action; new polling data demonstrates support for the purpose of executive action; Charles Kamasaki solidifies the comparison of executive action taken by President Bush and President Obama; and NCLR highlights the economic benefit of administrative relief.

NCLR kept the community informed on immigration with staff quoted in Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, and The Huffington Post.

In final days of the 113th Congress, House Republicans opt to attack millions of American families with symbolic vote on administrative relief: This week, House Republicans held two hearings focused on the legality of executive action and reiterated rhetoric that President Obama “poisoned the well” on comprehensive immigration reform.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the “Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act of 2014” (H.R. 5759), a symbolic bill to inhibit the execution of President Obama’s executive actions. The bill passed 219–197. In our press statement Janet Murguia said, “Today, House Republicans had yet another opportunity to demonstrate leadership on immigration. Instead, they confirmed that they have no intention of acting on this issue, opting for a symbolic vote that embraces a draconian, unworkable mass deportation strategy and attacks the only semblance of progress we have made in more than two decades.”

On the morning of the vote, House Democratic leadership and advocates urged House Republicans to focus on fixing our broken immigration system at a press conference. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Representative Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and Representative Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) also urged House Republicans to work on repairing our immigration system instead of on taxpayer resources on messaging bills, like H.R. 5759, and political posturing.

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Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro of the National Council of La Raza, Lorella Praeli of United We Dream, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer attend a news conference at the House Triangle, December 4, 2014. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Next week Congress will likely have votes on how to fund federal agencies beyond December 11, 2014. Discussions currently include possibly voting on a bill that could fund all federal agencies through fiscal year 2015, except the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which would be funded short-term and brought up again next year. Next Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on administrative relief. Stay tuned to our blog for updates.

New polls show Americans support goals of executive action: A recent CNN poll found that 50 percent of Americans think Obama’s plan for undocumented immigrants is about right, with 22 percent saying it doesn’t go far enough. Another 76 percent of respondents said Republicans should spend more time passing comprehensive immigration reform than attempting to overturn President Obama’s policies. Americans are increasingly concerned about undocumented immigrants and their families, with the poll showing 75 percent of Americans feel sympathetic toward those immigrants, up from 67 percent in 2011 and 52 percent in 2010.

Another poll found 72 percent of Americans favor the substance of the president’s Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program when asked how they felt about allowing “illegal immigrants who are the parents of children with legal status to stay in the U.S. for three years without being subject to deportation, if they pass a background check and have lived in the country for at least five years.” Provisions like the DREAM Act continue to garner strong support, with 64 percent favoring allowing those brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal status if they have served in the military or are enrolled in college.

NCLR continues to demonstrate the long-standing historical precedent for administrative relief: When questioning the legitimacy and legality of President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration, some claim actions taken by the president are “unprecedented,” even though every president since President Eisenhower has used prosecutorial discretion to shield immigrants from deportation.

NCLR’s Charles Kamasaki wrote a rebuttal to a recent Washington Post Fact Checker blog post that claims there is no precedent for the president’s action because those taken by others, like President Bush, are incomparable in scope. Kamasaki writes, “At issue is whether President Obama’s action to cover approximately 40 percent of the 11.1 million undocumented immigrants in the United States is comparable to an action by George H.W. Bush in 1990, which extended similar protections to 1.5 million undocumented spouses and children of applicants for the legalization programs authorized by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.”

Read Kamasaki’s piece, in which he concludes, “whether looking at the relative scope of the action, or with respect to congressional intent, the two situations are almost exactly analogous. As the Post editorial notes, ―facts matter— even in Washington —and so do numbers. It would do well to heed its own advice.”

NCLR highlights the economic benefits of executive action on immigration: Administrative relief will not only allow American families to live without the fear of separation, but it will also benefit all American workers and the U.S. economy. Our blog post notes that the issuance of work permits and the deferral of deportation will boost immigrant earnings and thus increase tax revenues, including the millions of dollars undocumented immigrants already contribute to the Social Security Administration. Additionally, work authorization enables immigrants to demand fair labor practices, decreasing exploitation of all American workers and increasing accountability of U.S. employers. The president’s actions brighten the economic outlook and improve our economy.

House Republican Vote to Block Administrative Action is an Attack on Millions of American Families

Photo: Harris Walker, Creative Commons

Photo: Harris Walker, Creative Commons

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives held two hearings examining the recent announcement of administrative relief on immigration by President Obama. In the morning, the House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing with the charged title: “Open Borders: The Impact of Presidential Amnesty on Border Security.” In his opening statement, Chairman Michael McCaul characterized executive action as an “unprecedented executive power grab” that “poisoned the well” and has broken the trust between Congress and the executive branch. Those claiming the president’s actions are “unprecedented” are misinformed. History shows us that more often than not, executive action has been the catalyst for legislation.

In the meantime, the nation should not be denied the national security, economic, moral, and social benefits we gain from having immigrants coming forward to work legally and to stay with their families. Instead of providing solutions to fix the broken immigration system, Republicans on the committee argued with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson over whether or not President Obama had “changed the law,” refusing to move beyond their rhetoric to address the purpose of the hearing: how President Obama’s action will enhance border security, making the country safer.

In the afternoon, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled “President Obama’s Executive Overreach on Immigration,” focusing on the constitutionality of the president’s executive action. While the three witnesses invited to testify by the House Republicans argued that President Obama’s action was unconstitutional, others have reached a different conclusion. A letter signed by more than 130 legal scholars outlines the opinion that the president’s actions are within his authority under prosecutorial discretion. Another letter signed by 10 law professors and lawyers apolitically determines the president’s actions are lawful. The letter notes, “While we differ among ourselves on many issues relating to presidential power and immigration policy, we are all of the view that these actions are lawful. They are exercises of prosecutorial discretion that are consistent with governing law and with the policies that Congress has expressed in the statutes that it has enacted.” In addition to these legal scholars, the Department of Justice issued a memo to the executive branch outlining the authority of the Department of Homeland Security to prioritize and defer removal of unlawfully present immigrants.

On Thursday, the House passed the ‘‘Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act of 2014” (H.R. 5759), a symbolic bill to inhibit the execution of President Obama’s executive actions. The bill passed 219–197. House Republicans have themselves recognized the futility of this legislation, saying Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wouldn’t bring the bill up in the Senate. However, the House Republican leadership decided to spend the last few days of the session pulling stunts instead of seriously addressing immigration reform. Instead of demonstrating leadership on immigration, House Republicans confirmed that they have no intention of acting on the issue. They are voting against the progress that has been made through the president’s action, which is a commonsense solution for our country.