Why did we both get arrested outside the U.S. Capitol last year demanding Congress pass comprehensive immigration reform? Why did Terry join more than 140 other activists outside the White House last week in an act of civil disobedience to demand that President Obama stop deporting workers, parents and children? Why did over 30 Floridian children whose parents have been deported hold a vigil in front of the White House on Monday afternoon to urge the President to stop separating families?
Because we had to. None of us can march into the Oval Office, pound on the President’s desk and tell Barack Obama to reverse the delay that he announced on Saturday. But we can give the President and members of Congress something to think about when they look out their windows. The question is whether they can muster the political will to do the right thing.
Barack Obama said he would act on his own if the do-nothing Congress continued to block reform—but now, he seems to be listening to cautious political advisors who believe they can siphon away votes from Republican Senate candidates by parroting their hard line on immigration. That’s the wrong way to go.
The 11 million undocumented men, women, and children cannot vote in the U.S. But members of their families and communities, who recognize the incredible contributions immigrants have made to our nation, can and will vote. In the year since the Senate immigration reform bill was passed, while the House refused to act, 1.5 million immigrants became newly eligible voters. For immigrant and Latino voters, relief from deportations and family separation will be a key issue in the upcoming elections.
And women vote. We know that fixing our broken immigration system is a crucial part of the struggle for women’s equality. Women and children make up 75% of immigrants in the US and they bear the brunt of harsh enforcement measures, backlogs in the family immigration process, and a biased visa system that doesn’t credit women’s contributions in informal labor sectors. Creating an immigration process that is fair to women and children is a priority for women voters, with 70% supporting immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.
The power of this voting bloc should be enough to make this a pressing issue for every candidate, but it seems almost nothing will move Republicans in the House to act. With Congress refusing to listen to their hearts, minds, and pollsters, President Obama must step in to make common-sense changes that provide relief from deportations and the separation of families.
Republicans allege that the President is overstepping his authority and disrespecting our system of checks and balances. But this Congress has pledged not to work with the President on the issue; it is the obstinacy and inaction of Congress that has tipped the scale, and the President must balance it out for the sake of millions.
There are several things that President Obama can do today to provide relief to millions of families and to live up to his campaign promises: use his legal authority to allow immigrants to remain and work legally in the U.S without burdensome requirements that could exclude women; alleviate the 4 million backlogged cases in the family visa system that jam the path to citizenship; repeal enforcement programs like “Secure Communities” and 287 (g) initiatives that are rife with racial profiling and create barriers for survivors of sexual and domestic violence to life-saving services and protection; allow spouses of visa holders to work to give women the ability to support themselves and contribute to our economy; immediately end the detention of families with children; and prioritize family unity in any Department of Homeland Security enforcement mandates.
By taking bold action now President Obama will live up to his promise and set us on the path to an immigration process that values families, is fair to women, and recognizes the invaluable contributions of immigrants to our nation. House Republicans have underestimated the power of immigrant communities, and the power of women who espouse true family values. People who care about their immigrant neighbors, relatives, friends, and co-workers will vote their values come November. Politicians who gambled on xenophobia and misanthropy will have to find a new line of work.
Terry O’Neill is the president of NOW. Pramila Jayapal is a Co-Chair of We Belong Together.