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US border crisis deals final blow to reform

Migrants sit at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church temporary migrant shelter in McAllen, Texas, yesterday.
GOP steps up rhetoric, hardens stance following humanitarian emergency involving thousands of kids

WASHINGTON — An immigration crisis that erupted recently on the Mexican border appears to have doomed whatever slim chances remained of pushing an immigration reform through the US Congress, numerous lawmakers and advocates on both sides of the issue said this week, and has left legislators scrambling to deal with a “humanitarian crisis” of epic proportions.

The crisis has been sparked by tens of thousands of children — mostly from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — showing up illegally, often without any parents or relatives, at the Texas border. Their numbers could reach 90,000 this year and grow to 150,000 next year — up from only about 6,000 in 2011, according to government estimates.

But even if this was the last blow against the reform, the hopes for new border legislation have actually suffered a slow collapse and mark the end of an effort that both Democrats and Republicans have characterized as central to the future of their parties. The failure leaves some 12 million illegal immigrants in continuing limbo over their status and is certain to increase political pressure on Obama from the left to act on his own.

‘This is over’

Some of the most vocal proponents of a legislative overhaul now say they have surrendered any last hopes that Democrats and Republicans can reach a deal. The realization marks a low point for advocates who mounted the first serious immigration push since 2007, when a bipartisan effort under then-president George W. Bush was defeated in the Senate.

Obama called immigration reform his top second-term priority, and many GOP leaders suggested after their 2012 election loss to Obama that a deal was necessary for the party as it sought to broaden its appeal to Latinos.

But after a year of cajolling, prodding and berating House Republicans, leading advocates acknowledge that time has run out. Last Friday marked a year since the Senate approved a comprehensive immigration bill on a bipartisan vote, with no progress evident in the GOP-controlled House and little time left this year to approve legislation.

“Nothing’s going to happen,” Representative Luis Gutiérrez, a Democrat, said in an interview Wednesday after denouncing his GOP colleagues for their inaction in a fiery House floor speech. “My point of view is, this is over. . . . Every day, they become not recalcitrant, but even more energetically opposed to working with us. How many times does someone have to say no until you understand they mean no?”

Chances of legislation advancing in the House are “next to zero,” said Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican and a member of a bipartisan group of eight senators who led reform efforts in the Upper Chamber.

GOP: Time is not right

Hopes for a sweeping immigration deal had already dimmed considerably by this spring. But the Obama administration and its Democratic allies believed, based on signals from House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP leaders, that there was a final window for a deal this summer before midterm elections this fall.

But apart from the children’s crisis at the Mexico border, the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor at a primary election this month to a Tea Party challenger who ran on a strong anti-immigration platform negatively impacted the chances for reform.

House Republicans have cited both situations as evidence that the time is not right for a broad, bipartisan deal that would provide legal status, and potentially citizenship, to millions of undocumented immigrants.

Many have also stepped up their rhetoric on the issue, blaming Obama policies for the border crisis and emphasizing that the president has failed to convince them he will enforce immigration laws.

During a House Homeland Security Committee hearing this week, some GOP members suggested that the United States should, among other things, cut off all economic aid to Mexico until the border is secure, build hundreds of kilometres of new fencing to help prevent more illegal immigration and immediately put the children arrested by Border Patrol officers on buses back to their home countries.

“I think what you need to do is ask the Guatemala government where they want these kids dropped off when the buses bring them back down there,” Republican Representative Mike Rogers told Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson during the hearing.

The ascension of Republican Representative Kevin McCarthy to replace Cantor as majority leader appears unlikely to add new momentum to the immigration effort, even with his representation of an agricultural district that relies heavily on immigrant farm labourers.

Pressure on Obama

House GOP aides said that, like Boehner and Cantor, McCarthy believes that Obama has damaged his standing with the conference through a lax approach to enforcing immigration laws. That view — heavily disputed by the White House — was underscored Wednesday when Boehner announced at a news conference that he intends to sue Obama over the president's use of executive powers.

Though Boehner declined to spell out which actions would be addressed, Republicans have repeatedly complained about Obama’s 2012 decision not to deport young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally by their parents.

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a leading immigrant rights group, predicted that pressure on Obama would “increase significantly in July” because advocates had lost hope in the legislative process.

Members of both parties also suggest it is highly unlikely that immigration reform could be restarted next year, when the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign begin to take shape.

Herald with Washington Post


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