One year ago, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and fellow members of the bipartisan Gang of Eight watched as the immigration bill they helped negotiate swept the Senate to chants of "Yes, we can!"
Now, as immigration legislation is still stalled in the House, the Republican senator puts the odds of enacting significant immigration legislation this year at "close to zero," its prospects further undermined by the flood of unaccompanied minors from Central America streaming over the southern border.
In an interview Tuesday with Capital Download, Flake urged President Obama to go before cameras to address families in Honduras, Guatemala and elsewhere who believe their children might be able to gain legal status in the USA. In 2012, the president took executive action permitting the so-called Dreamers — young people who had grown up in the USA after being brought here illegally by their parents — to work legally and get such official documents as driver's licenses.
"It would be helpful, I believe, if the president himself were to stand and say, 'If you come here, you will not be afforded any legal status; you will likely be deported,' " Flake told USA TODAY's weekly video news maker series. "That would carry a lot more weight than a directive from the secretary of Homeland Security or the vice president," who in recent days have tried to make that argument.
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The belief that their children might be able to stay in the USA — an argument sometimes made by human traffickers seeking payment to transport illegal immigrants — is "the primary driver of the traffic northward now," Flake said. The spike in unaccompanied children making the dangerous and illegal journey has taken a humanitarian toll on them and strained U.S. resources to care for them in Texas and elsewhere.
It also has hurt efforts to overhaul the nation's immigration system. "It feeds the narrative, particularly on the Republican side, that the president is unwilling to enforce the law," Flake said, "and when the president takes unilateral action without working with Congress, anything that feeds that narrative makes it more difficult to move ahead with legislation."