A day after Republicans wrested control of the U.S. Senate from Democratic hands, proponents of immigration reform, including U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago), called on President Barack Obama to act in a “bold and meaningful way” on immigration and warned of consequences for the Democratic Party if they are ignored.
In September, as thousands of unaccompanied children were crossing the Mexican border into the United States, Obama told Meet the Press viewers he was going to delay any executive action on the immigration crisis until after the mid-term elections.
Obama denied the decision was made with the November elections in mind, saying he made the decision to ensure any executive action would be “sustainable” and to give the public time to understand the facts on immigration.
Gutierrez wasn’t buying it.
“The president of the United States delayed his decision on executive action because they didn’t want to lose the Senate,” he said at a press conference held by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
Gutierrez said Obama’s decision to delay immigration reform weighed on immigrant voters and was a factor in the Democratic Party’s mid-term defeats.
“You repressed the vote in the Latino community and what did you come up with?” asked Gutierrez. “You lost the Senate anyways.”
Ronnie Cho, former associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, questioned why Gutierrez has targeted Obama.
“The truth is everybody wants the same thing, which is comprehensive immigration reform,” Cho said. “Is the president really the enemy he should be going after?”
Now that elections are over, comprehensive immigration reform is exactly what some reform advocates are expecting from Obama.
“Our community members are deeply, deeply disappointed about Congress’ inaction and months and months of delay by the president,” said Inhe Choi, interim director of the Korean American Resource and Cultural Center, who spoke alongside Gutierrez.
“We have a message for the president: you have to act now,” Choi said.
Whatever immigration plan Obama comes up with, Gutierrez does not want to wait for bipartisan support with Republicans, who now control 53 Senate seats to the Democrats’ 45, and in the House have the largest Republican margin since 1946.
“We went through this election cycle in which immigrants were used and vilified by the Republican Party,” Gutierrez said. “Now we’re supposed to wait for them to be kind and generous to us? No.”
Saying the Republican plan for the next two years is going to be “inaction,” Gutierrez said Obama needs to use his executive order power to achieve immigration reform and expand protection to the 5-7 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S.
Cho, however, said executive orders would not bring the permanent reforms Gutierrez seeks because executive orders can be easily changed, repealed or challenged in court.
“Yes, the president can do a few things through executive orders but at the end of the day those protections won’t have the force of the law behind them,” Cho said.
He said the most “lasting and resilient” form of protection for immigrants is for Congress to establish some kind of legal status for immigrants in this country.
“The most important thing we can do right now is create a legislative solution,” Cho said.
Whether through executive order or legislation, Gutierrez expects results or Democrats should no longer count on the “resounding support” of immigrants.
“We warn the White House,” Gutierrez said. “Not only won’t you have the Republicans you won’t have us either.”