U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, left, speaks at a Senate hearing in May. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune / May 19, 2014)

On April 2, I went to the floor of the House of Representatives to tell my Republican colleagues they had three months to act on immigration reform before the Independence Day recess. I returned to the floor almost every week since, counting down to July 4, which would effectively mark the end of the window to act on immigration this year. After that, campaign season takes over and chances for substantive legislation disappear. All you are likely to see until November — and all we have seen for most of the 113th Congress — are bills calibrated to inflame conservative voting blocs to get out the vote.

The fact that House Republicans failed to take up immigration reform a full year after the Senate passed a comprehensive bipartisan bill is very bad news for those who want a secure border and a reduction in the number of people who come to the U.S. illegally. For the foreseeable future, we will be stuck with a decades-old immigration system that makes it impossible for most people to come legally and incredibly difficult for those who qualify.

That's good news for false document sellers who have a license to print money under the current system because no reform means no mandated workplace employment identification system like E-Verify.

Smugglers and human traffickers who prey on those who have no legal options are also the big winners. As we are witnessing now, even though we capture at the Texas border most of the young migrants fleeing Central American violence, we are still left with a legal immigration mess that forces those coming here — even for legitimate reasons — to feed into the black market. With $18 billion spent to enforce a nearly unenforceable status quo, resources that could identify and interdict terrorists are wasted detaining moms and dads in for-profit prisons. And the U.S. is passing up the windfall for our economy, the budget deficit, and jobs that a reformed legal immigration system would bring.

But congressional inaction is even worse news for the Republican Party and conservatives. In taking no action, Republicans are choosing to forfeit the White House in order to hold power in the House of Representatives. They are ending any chance conservatives have to sit in the Oval Office, control the executive branch, set foreign policy or nominate Supreme Court justices for decades to come.

That's obviously very good news for Hillary Clinton or any competent candidate the Democrats nominate in 2016 or for the next few decades. The math is stark. In 2012, Mitt Romney won a larger percentage of the white vote than any other candidate — including Ronald Reagan — but lost the presidential election by 5 million votes. Blocking immigration reform will not help the GOP be competitive with Asian and Latino voters. Republicans don't have to win them over, but they cannot get creamed by 40 points and get the Electoral College majority.

Latino voters have shown that the exercise of their citizenship is intertwined with our nation's treatment of noncitizens. Today, an estimated 2,000 American-born Latino citizens will turn 18, and 2,000 will turn 18 tomorrow and every day for the next decade. They will remember which party demonized immigrants and made legal immigration more difficult.

The vast majority of Americans who favor humane immigration policies will not patiently wait until January 2017 for a change in the way this country treats immigrants and their families. Now that Republicans have failed to act, the focus will be on what President Barack Obama can do within existing law to keep families together, target record-breaking deportations on actual criminals and security threats, and make due process and humanity the rule in our immigration system. No president, especially Obama, wants to go down in history as the one who deported the most immigrants. He will act boldly this year, within the confines of our out-of-date laws, to add rationality to our irrational immigration and deportation system.

It is a sad moment for the House of Representatives and for our democracy, which was built and sustained largely — and proudly — by immigrants over the generations. Republicans have failed us and failed themselves. Those of us committed to justice must work toward the day when America embraces its immigrant brothers and sisters, allows them to seek opportunity legally and continues the progress of building a great nation by incorporating those who were born in other nations.

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Ill., is chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' Immigration Task Force.

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