Despite nationwide rallies in early October that led to the arrest of eight House Democrats, immigration reform has been relegated to Congress’s back burner during the shutdown and debt ceiling crises. But on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama (D) reaffirmed his commitment to immigration reform, promising that he would pressure Congress to bring up the issue the morning after a deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling is passed.
During an interview with Univision affiliate reporter Claudia Botero, the President touched on a variety of topics that affect Latinos, including the federal shutdown that has hurt more than 3 million Latino businesses. He argued that immigration reform will make the economy grow faster and bring down the deficit, since legalized immigrants would pay more in taxes than they currently do.
Once [the fiscal crisis] is done, you know, the day after I’m going to be pushing to say, call a vote on immigration reform,” Obama said. “I’m going to do so because I think it’s really important for the country.”
He also challenged House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to call a floor vote on the Senate’s immigration bill. “We had a very strong Democratic and Republican vote in the Senate. The only thing right now that’s holding it back is again, Speaker Boehner not willing to call the bill on the floor of the House of Representatives. So we’re going to have to get through this crisis that was unnecessary … if I have to join with other advocates and continue to speak out on that, and keep pushing, I’m going to do so.”
Obama also emphasized the importance of the Affordable Care Act for Latinos, declaring, “What I’m not going to do is to leave millions of people, including millions of Latinos, without the possibility of getting affordable health insurance simply because a small group in the Republican party has decided to make this their cause and they’re threatening the U.S. economy.”
Latinos have the lowest rates of health coverage in the country. If the Senate immigration reform bill debates are any indication, that Republicans will continue to prevent healthcare coverage for newly legalized immigrants. And contrary to what some Republicans may shout, undocumented immigrants do not qualify for the Affordable Care Act.
During his 2012 reelection campaign, Obama swore to make immigration reform a top priority– a promise that may have helped him to cinch 71 percent of the Latino vote (also partially thanks to Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” gaffe).
In June, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill that some House Republicans immediately rejected as “dead on arrival.” The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that the Senate bill would actually help to reduce the federal budget deficit by $158 billion in the first ten years of its enactment, and then an additional $685 billion in the second decade.
In early October, House Democrats introduced an immigration bill that draws from the Senate bill, as well as House Republican-approved border security provisions. A spokesperson for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said that the bill had “zero chance” on the House floor.
Obama has also committed to detaining and deporting only the most serious immigrant offenders. Still, his administration is on track to deport two million immigrants by 2014 — more deportations in six years than the total number of immigrants deported before 1997. The vast majority of those deportees committed non-serious offenses, in some cases as minor as a traffic offense.