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Letter No. 46: Immigration reform now!

Felicia Persaud | 9/26/2013, 1:43 p.m.
Felicia Persaud

Dear Mr. President,

Hispanic Heritage Month is about to end with immigration reform being pushed more and more to the back burner, especially as your focus turns now from Syria to the debt ceiling and the budget battle with Republicans. It’s utterly disappointing that you have yet to use this month to actually reiterate the need for immigration reform—even as Republicans too ignore the issue despite, like the White House, also paying tribute to Latinos.

While Latino activists chain themselves to the north side of the White House fence to call attention to the plight of 11 million undocumented immigrants and the continued deportation of many, you have said nothing of substance. Instead, your saving grace is that as president, you have decided that undocumented immigrants, who had no say in the way they immigrated to the U.S., should be allowed to stay.

So what happens next? Will a government shutdown bring a halt to the almost 1,000 deportations by your administration, border round-ups and processing of applications in a system that is already backlogged and leading to more angst among immigrants trying hard to become legal?

Just as you feel the need to urge big businesses to rattle Republicans’ archaic cages on the debt ceiling and the budget, I hope you will consider using the same call to urge big businesses, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, to continue to push for immigration reform. They are the key in this, and even though you have a full plate, I urge you to not let immigration reform die by the wayside. As activist Maria Guadalupe Crespo put it best, “There is so much suffering in our communities.”

Still, I am cautiously optimistic, because Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has insisted that the House will act on immigration overhaul legislation in October. The good news, if we can trust Goodlatte, is that Republicans may add to legislation to grant work visas to lower-skilled workers, as well as a bill to give immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as kids an “earned path to citizenship”; changes to the asylum and refugee program; and finally move to resolve the status of the 11 million people already in the country illegally.

“We are taking what we call a step-by-step approach. We have objections to the Senate bill, but we don’t say we want to kill the Senate bill,” Goodlatte said at a gathering organized by House Republicans with Hispanic Republican leaders to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month. “We say we want to do immigration reform right.” Such an approach could result in House approval of a package of bills that could lead to negotiations with the Senate on a compromised immigration bill that you might be able to sign this year after all.

So I take heart in what Zuckerberg said this week. If he is “optimistic” about the prospects that the House will pass a bill, then I will be too. Next step, Mr. President, is to please quit saying things like you are “not a king.” Being president of the most powerful nation on earth must mean something after all, and if all else fails, there is always deferred deportation.