Helen Aguirre Ferre

Helen Aguirre Ferré: U.S. immigration fix won’t get done by harassing GOP reformers

Using children to harass politicians changes neither hearts nor votes in Congress, yet that is precisely what some groups are doing in an attempt to get Republicans to approve immigration reform with a path toward citizenship.

Dreamers and young children alike have interrupted private lunches, stormed the homes and offices of legislators and even performed a skit whereby House Speaker John Boehner is featured as the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Curiously enough. some of the targets like Boehner, Eric Cantor and Mario Diaz-Balart, support immigration reform. They are not the enemy. Instead of badgering them, the Dreamers should be providing political cover in the event the Tea Party supports a primary challenger against the incumbents. Tea Party folks assume immigration reform and amnesty are one and the same. They are not.

Living illegally in the United States is a civil offense not a criminal one. Nearly all agree that acquiring legal status should be earned. While it is the most controversial part of the legislation, it cannot be ignored. Failing to fix such an obvious problem discredited Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign among Hispanic voters who, in turn, gave Obama overwhelming support.

What a difference a year makes. Today these same Hispanics are disillusioned by President Obama thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its dependence upon young adults to register for the program. Hispanics are a very young demographic, the average age being 27 years old. Many of these are not happy to be shouldering the cost of healthcare for the aging baby boomers.

But Hispanics also recall President Obama’s campaign promise in 2008 that if elected he would pass immigration reform in his first year in office. Given the economic challenges the nation faced with the Great Recession in his first year, everyone gave the president the benefit of the doubt, but in his second year he could have tackled it. Instead, Obama chose to put all of his political muscle into passing ACA.

All the while, Hispanic leaders, many of them strong supporters of Obama, kept silent. Those who today lambast the Republicans for stalling on immigration reform were mute when it came to the president reneging on his promise to the community. If they had pushed this administration then, as much as they are pushing immigration reform now, we would be tackling another issue today.

Adding insult to injury, this administration leads all others in deportations. It is estimated that by January that figure will reach 2 million. Perhaps as much as 55 percent of those deported had criminal records and deserve expulsion, but the rest were contributing to our economy. Now even Democrats are challenging the administration on deportations.

Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois is among the 29 House Democrats who have sent a letter to the president urging him to use his executive powers to stop these deportations much as he did with the Dreamers, at least until Congress debates and votes on the issue. So far, Obama has brushed off the petition. “I have gotten used to the president’s brusque treatment,” Gutierrez told me in an interview on Univision America radio, “but that does not deter me to continue to fight.” He is also an ardent supporter of Mario Diaz Balart on this issue, pointing out that if asked he would campaign for him in Miami.

Immigration reform makes economic sense. Our aging population has growing needs; Social Security and Medicare require fresh sources of funding. Immigrants tend to be younger and temporary work visas for both sophisticated and manual labor would suit them well. Not everyone desires citizenship.

Republicans can benefit from immigration reform if they can build political consensus from within. Polls show voters broadly support it which will come in handy during election time. Key states with significant numbers of Hispanic voters like Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Nevada could be critical for the GOP in next year’s midterm elections, not to mention the 2016 presidential race.

A major obstacle to moving forward is that for some this is not a pressing issue, as Republican Rep. Jeff Denham of California explained to me. “We don’t have a time line like we did for the fiscal cliff or the budget to force us to have a full debate.”

And yet for millions it is a pressing, sensitive and deeply personal issue touching people’s hearts and lives.

Congress has a choice to make, the road to follow is clear. If Ronald Reagan were alive today, he would be on it.

Helen Aguirre Ferré moderates the public affairs show Issues on WPBT2 in South Florida and has a national radio show of political analysis on Univision America network.