On March 26, House Democrats took the unusual step of introducing a "discharge petition" to demand a vote on comprehensive immigration reform. Such a petition requires a majority in the House of Representatives—218 members—to sign on. Once that threshold is crossed, it will force a vote on H.R. 15, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. If a vote were held in the House today, the bill would pass, but Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) is allowing a small group of anti-immigrant extremists to hold the reform effort hostage.
The AFT strongly supports this "Demand a Vote" petition. "The only thing standing between that bill and the president's desk is 218 signatures from members of the House of Representatives," says AFT Political Director John Ost.
The AFT is urging members to contact their representatives in the House—both Democrats and Republicans—to ask them to sign the petition. H.R. 15 already has more than 190 co-sponsors.
Last June, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill with a path to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans. This was a milestone, driven by more than a decade of tireless advocacy by immigration rights activists, DREAMers (young people brought here as children who hope to go to college in the only country they have known as home), and a coalition of labor, social justice, faith-based, and civil and human rights organizations, and even business interests. Now it's time to demand a vote in the House, says Ost.
Immigration reform is good for our economy. On March 25, the Congressional Budget Office sent an economic impact analysis of H.R. 15 to House Leader Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.). The Senate and House versions of immigration reform would reduce the deficit by $900 billion over the next 20 years, the CBO found, with a $200 billion savings just in the first decade alone. Further, the CBO estimates that H.R. 15 would reduce the budget deficit by $197 billion in the first decade and by $700 billion in the second decade.
Passing comprehensive immigration reform now would put an end to the tragic separation of families that occurs every day because of our broken immigration system. In February, the AFT executive council passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on low-priority deportations and demanding that President Obama exercise his executive power to act on behalf of those who would have been protected were House Republicans not delaying a vote. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deports an average of 1,200 people per day.
But even if the president does put a hold on the deportations, only Congress can establish a permanent fix to our broken immigration system by passing a bill. In recent weeks, immigration rights groups, including AFT activists, have been participating in a stream of actions to build pressure for reform. Last December, Fast for Families completed a 22-day fast on the National Mall outside the steps of the Capitol to show what is at stake and how adamant the community is that we must have reform. The activists carried the momentum forward with a "Fast for Families Across America Bus Tour," which began Jan. 27. The tour has taken fasters to more than 100 congressional districts across the country, where they've met with local congressional staff, talked to newspaper editorial boards and rallied community supporters. The goal: to have a vote in sight when the tour concludes on April 9 in Washington, D.C.
"Right now, 11 million people live in the shadows," says Ost. "There's too much at stake—it's time for comprehensive immigration reform now." Contact your representative in the House and demand a vote.
[Barbara McKenna/photo by Bill Burke/Page One]
March 26, 2014