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What the election means for the future of immigration reform

One of the major national policy issues that lost political momentum going into the 2014 election is immigration reform. What’s next for reform if Republicans take the Senate? Did the stalemate demobilize voters? Gwen Ifill gets debate from Cristina Jimenez of United We Dream and Brad Botwin of Help Save Maryland.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Tonight’s outcomes could broaden the definition of winner and loser. There are also major issues hanging in the balance. Tonight, we look at prospects for two of them, first, immigration.

    Joining us are two activists intimately on both sides of the issue of who gets to come to the U.S., who gets to stay and who gets sent back.

    Brad Botwin is director of Help Save Maryland, a group that wants to tighten the nation’s borders. And Cristina Jimenez is co-founder of United We Dream, which works on behalf of undocumented immigrants.

    Welcome to you both.

    Ms. Jimenez, the movement on immigration reform has basically ground to a halt in Congress and at the White House. What would this election do to change that?

  • CRISTINA JIMENEZ, United We Dream:

    Well, I think that what’s going to be critical here is that whatever the outcomes are for these elections will have a lot of impact for 2016.

    So the question is, would Democrats and the president continue to deport people? Will the president take administrative or executive action on immigration, as he promised on June 30, and/or will the Republicans continue to promote the mass deportation agenda, as they did with Mitt Romney and have continued to do so?

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Brad Botwin, is it a mass deportation agenda we’re talking about?

  • BRAD BOTWIN, Help Save Maryland:

    I don’t believe so.

    I think, tonight, we will see the Senate flip to Republican, which is actually a good thing for the immigration issue, because you will have a more logical approach. I think the president and the Democrats in the Senate tried to do effectively another Obamacare for immigration, just a mass bill.

    With the Republicans in charge of the Senate and the House, I think you will get a step-by-step process, and this will mean, first off, border security. Let’s turn off the leaks. Let’s seal the border. Internal security. And, eventually, over time, after this happens, I think we can get to groups that are pushing, these so-called dreamers and others.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, let’s take it one step at a time. Do you both agree that comprehensive immigration as a result of tonight’s election results is off the table?

  • CRISTINA JIMENEZ:

    What I think is urgent for the immigration communities is that the president has made a promise to address immigration, because what we saw in 2013 and even this year is that Republicans were unwilling to work on an immigration reform bill that was passed by the Senate.

    And, very clearly, Speaker Boehner said that they won’t move forward on immigration. And what we have rather seen is Republicans time after time voting to defund programs like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, for example.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Except that a lot of people on your side of the issue are disappointed in the president, too, for not acting.

  • CRISTINA JIMENEZ:

    Exactly.

    It has been a big disappointment that he actually chose and made a political calculation, thinking that he would rather protect some of the Senate races and the folks running for the Senate races, instead of taking action on immigration, as he had promised.

    And I think that based on the outcomes of tonight, we will see whether the White House made a good decision or a decision that actually demobilized voters.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, let me ask Mr. Botwin about this idea of executive action, the president stepping in and overruling Congress essentially on some of these issues.

  • BRAD BOTWIN:

    Bring it on, Mr. President. Bring it on.

    I think this year, with the Central American tidal wave coming in, the so-called children and their families just walking across the border, destroyed the thoughts of having a secure border, absolutely destroyed it. And Democrats and Republicans came forward and said, enough of this nonsense. We need to do something comprehensive, but we need to do it in steps.

    So, again, the Obamacare analogy I think is just perfect. Don’t blow the whole thing up. Let’s stop the problem of people just wandering in. And, you know, immigrants don’t decide who comes here. The American people decide who can come here and how many can come here.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Cristina Jimenez, you are an undocumented immigrant yourself. Why don’t you respond to that?

  • CRISTINA JIMENEZ:

    Well, we say to people and what we have been pushing the president to do and Democrats and Republicans to think about is that, as many immigrants have come throughout the history of the United States — my family came from Ecuador when I was 13 years old seeking a better life.

    We were in a situation where we had no food, no money to pay for school. And my parents’ dream was so that I can come here and pursue those dreams, because they know that in this country those dreams could be achievable. And that’s what I did. I’m the first one in my family to graduate from college. I grew up undocumented. And I love this country. For me, this is my country, and…

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Mr. Botwin says it’s not up to you to decide whether it’s your country.

  • CRISTINA JIMENEZ:

    Well, what I say is that I truly believe in the values of this nation, as I learned in school and my families — and family do, too. And we want to be part of the fabric of society.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let’s talk about tonight.

    Or go ahead. Go ahead.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • BRAD BOTWIN:

    I’m second generation legal immigrant. My grandparents came over from Russia. They came legally.

  • CRISTINA JIMENEZ:

    But the system we have now, it is not the same.

  • BRAD BOTWIN:

    The system actually works.

    We have a million immigrants being allowed in and getting green cards every year legally. What we have is Cristina and her organization, which I looked on your Web site — I’m not sure who is funding it — probably La Raza or some other groups like that — but we cannot allow which is pretty much anyone who can walk across the border to come in here.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let’s come back full circle.

  • BRAD BOTWIN:

    You will see it in Montgomery County.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    OK. Let’s — Maryland, you’re talking about.

  • BRAD BOTWIN:

    Yes.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let’s come back full circle to tonight.

    Which races are you watching the outcomes of tonight which could tip this debate in your favor or against you, starting with you, Cristina Jimenez?

  • CRISTINA JIMENEZ:

    Well, what we know is that, this year, the map wasn’t good for Democrats or incumbents.

    And the reality is that all Americans are very frustrated with the gridlock in Congress, not only on immigration for the Latino community, and, you know, most Americans actually want a solution on immigration. It’s not only that immigrants want a solution on immigration.

    So, from our perspective, it’s going to be important to look at places like Colorado, like the governor’s race in Florida, and it will be critical to see whether the decision of the president to delay executive action on immigration is going to have an impact on the number of Latinos that will turn out to vote, and that the actions that will be taken by the president will be meaningful for 2016.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Brad Botwin.

  • BRAD BOTWIN:

    Yes.

    It’s really the president and the Democrat have been kicking this issue down the road.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Which states?

  • BRAD BOTWIN:

    Same, Colorado, Arkansas. Really, the Senate is going to flip.

    So I can’t think of one Democratic senator who was pushing amnesty as their main objective during this campaign season, not one.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So, if things turn out the way you hope they will tonight, it’s good news for you…

  • BRAD BOTWIN:

    It’s very good news.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    … no matter which states?

  • BRAD BOTWIN:

    It’s very good news.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Brad Botwin of Help Save Maryland and Cristina Jimenez of United We Dream, thank you both very much.

  • CRISTINA JIMENEZ:

    Thank you.

  • BRAD BOTWIN:

    Thanks.

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