In a few weeks, the number of undocumented immigrants deported since President Obama took office will surpass two million — more than any other president. In the time since the Senate passed the immigration reform bill in July, the Department of Homeland Security deported 100,000 people. While Democratic leaders in the House introduced a sweeping new bill proposal this week, the government shutdown and federal debt ceiling have eclipsed the issue of immigration reform. Meanwhile, major protests are planned for Saturday and Tuesday to call on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. Dubbed a "National Day for Dignity and Respect," events are planned Saturday in more than 100 cities nationwide. We speak to Clarissa Martínez-De-Castro, the director of Immigration and National Campaigns at the National Council of La Raza.
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> We waited for the Gang of Eight to be accepted. We graciously deferred to the speaker as to the timing, as to the method, whether it’s one bill, two bills, one at a time, singly, jointly, severally, whatever it is, comprehensive, and we’re prepared to do whatever it takes to go to conference with a good bill that stops the deportations and is a path to citizenship.
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> And in the House, the Republicans have discussed and—trying to get out different portions of a bill, but not a comprehensive bill. Could you talk about what they have so far done in the House in terms of specific portions of immigration reform?
CLARISSA MARTÍNEZ-DE-CASTRO: Yes. In the House, that—in the House, they have passed five bills so far out of committee. And they can move to the floor with any one of those bills. The thing about getting immigration reform done is that there is different procedural ways in which they can get there. And because that is the case, we, as a coalition of forces, as advocates, have not focused necessarily on the process. We know that if there is a will, leadership can get this done.
In terms of the pieces, out of the Judiciary Committee they have passed a high-tech bill, an agricultural bill, an unSAFE bill—and I’ll get to that in a second—and they have also passed out of the Homeland Security Committee a border security bill, in addition to their work authorization verification bill. So, some of these parts are worse than others. For example, one of them would make the Arizona racial profiling law the law of the land and criminalize undocumented persons. That’s obviously no way forward. Another one would create a bracero program that would keep farmworkers, just as a pair of hands, subject to exploitation. That is not a way forward. But there are some other bills they can put together to try to get to the floor and get to a negotiation with the Senate, even if they don’t take up just one comprehensive bill like the Senate did.
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> And, Clarissa, my understanding, in talking to immigrant rights advocates, is they’re expecting to ramp up a civil disobedience and protest campaign specifically targeting Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor, since they believe that if they will allow a bill to come to a vote in the House, that there are the votes among Republicans and Democrats to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Is it your sense that it’s—really the problem right now is the leadership in the House that is continuing to refuse to move this bill forward?
CLARISSA MARTÍNEZ-DE-CASTRO: Well, in a way, it’s similar to the problem we’re seeing with the shutdown, that we know there are enough Republican members who don’t want to continue to have the government shut down. And so, I think that Republicans—those realistic, pragmatic Republicans that are interested in fulfilling their mandate, which is to govern—need to work with their leadership to come to a solution that doesn’t allow a small minority of the party to continue calling the shots for the rest of the nation, particularly on an issue that there are enough Republicans who support it to get it passed in the House and the vast majority of America supports it.
And the reason why it’s so important is because, as you mentioned at the beginning, inaction is not free of consequences. Every single day, we are seeing, Juan, over 1,000 people being deported, and it has consequences, dire consequences, on those individuals, but it reverberates across our communities, citizens and immigrant alike. And we have to stop that.