A leading House Democrat on Wednesday declared immigration reform dead because his Republican colleagues are blocking it and called on President Obama to take executive action to stem deportations of undocumented immigrants.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of the most vocal immigration advocates on Capitol Hill, said in a fiery floor speech that the GOP's "chance to play a role in immigration policy is over. We've given you time to craft legislation and you failed. The president has no other choice but to act on existing laws to make deportation policies more humane."
Gutierrez's remarks are notable because they're a shift in rhetoric for Democrats and the Obama administration, who have tried to rein in direct criticism of House Republicans in hopes that they would embrace a comprehensive immigration deal this summer. President Obama had delayed a review of his administration's deportation policies until the end of summer to give the House a final window to act.
In an interview after his speech, Gutierrez said it is clear the GOP is unwilling to support legislation.
"Nothing's going to happen," he said. "My point of view is, this is over. There's no reason to continue to wait. Every day, 1,000 people get deported. The president should stop deportations. There's no reason to wait. Wait for what? Every day, they [Republicans] become not recalcitrant but even more energetically opposed to working with us. How many times does someone have to say no until you understand they mean no?"
Immigration advocates have grown increasingly frustrated by the administration's deportation record and have ramped up pressure on Obama to use his executive power to expand a 2012 program to defer the deportations of young immigrants who came to the country illegally as children. Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a leading immigrant rights group, said he agreed with Gutierrez's assessment that time has run out on legislative efforts and he predicted pressure on Obama would "increase significantly in July."
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said this week that the administration has seen no signs that House Republicans are using the summer window to pursue immigration legislation. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has said reform efforts have stalled because the GOP rank-and-file don't trust Obama.
"House Republicans at every turn have blocked any sort of progress that would track with the compromised proposal that was passed by the Senate," Earnest said this week, referring to the comprehensive immigration bill approved by the upper chamber last year. Earnest said the White House was not willing to lay out a "specific deadline" for the House, adding that Republicans have shown in budget negotiations that when they want to "act really quickly to pass something that the Senate has already passed, they can do it."
During a news conference on Capitol Hill, Boehner said he has appointed a working group of Republican lawmakers to monitor the Obama administration's response to an influx of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central American across the United States's border with Mexico. Republicans have cited the administration's immigration policies for contributing to the problem.
The GOP working group will report back to him during the week of July 8 with potential suggestions for changes to immigration laws that the caucus could pursue, Boehner said. The group will "help our members understand what the facts are, as opposed to what some of the fiction is."
At a breakfast with reporters Wednesday hosted by the Wall Street Journal, Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), two of the architects of the Senate immigration bill, said they were not willing to give up hope yet on the House.
McCain said that former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's primary loss to a tea party-backed challenger who ran on a strong anti-immigration platform hurt the effort.
"I can't tell you we have a great shot at it," McCain said. "But I know the consequences of failure."