Oregon Democrat speaks at gathering sponsored by immigrant-rights group.

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: PETER WONG - U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader told a small crowd in Salem Saturday that he believe the immigration fight is this generation's civil rights battle. Schrader, a Canby resident, is a Democrat representing Oregon's 5th Congressional District.SALEM — U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader says the current debate on federal immigration policy is “the civil rights battle for the younger generation.”

Schrader, in a talk Saturday at Chemeketa Community College, linked it with the campaign for full voting rights for blacks that culminated 50 years ago next month in Selma, Ala.

“They, too, had a different background — different ethnicity, different race — and yet they had rights to participate in this country of ours that had been denied them,” says the Democrat from Canby, who is in his fourth term from the 5th District.

“This is what is at stake now for a lot of you and your families. I feel a kinship and a need to support all people who had an opportunity to come to this great country.”

Schrader spoke to a couple of hundred people at an Immigration Action Day sponsored by Causa, Oregon’s immigrant-rights group.

Even though a federal district judge postponed them last week, Schrader says he is confident that President Barack Obama will prevail on Nov. 20 executive actions, which will enable the government to issue work permits and delay deportation of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants.

“All he is doing is setting priorities for law enforcement in a tough budget environment, which Republicans should be pleased with,” Schrader said afterward. “So let’s be smart about it and give hope to people who have been here for a long time and have contributed a huge amount to society.”

Anastasia Hernandez of Hillsboro hopes they will, for the sake of the seven children in her family.

“It would make my husband legal and keep our family together,” she said after Schrader’s talk. “It would take the stress off us so we wouldn’t have to worry about driver’s licenses and my husband being arrested for doing his job as a father.”

Oregonians for Immigration Reform, which has opposed Obama’s actions, says it is not opposed to immigration — but seeks a legal and limited flow of people into the United States.

Its statement in part:

“Immigration built the foundation and wove the fabric of our sovereign nation. Yet OFIR is concerned about the utter disregard for existing United States immigration laws…

“A sovereign American nation has both the right and the responsibility to limit immigration and control its borders.”

Obama’s actions

A White House spokesman says the government will seek an emergency ruling to let the actions proceed despite Judge Andrew Hanen’s ruling, which came in response to a lawsuit filed by 26 states. Oregon is not one of them; Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum joined with Washington and 10 other states in favor of Obama’s actions.

One of the proposed actions subject to the judge’s delay would offer deferred deportation and three-year work permits to an estimated 3.7 million undocumented immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens

or lawful permanent residents. They would have to undergo criminal background checks and pay taxes.

The other proposed action would expand a 2012 program, for which 1.7 million were eligible, that offers deferred deportation and two-year work permits to immigrants who were brought illegally to the United States as children.

The judge’s order delays only the expanded program, which advances the U.S. residency requirement from 2007 to 2010 and lifts an age cap of 31 by June 15, 2012.

Under the original program, 581,000 applications were accepted; just 24,000 were rejected. Current participants can seek renewal of their work permits.

Because of the judge’s order, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services cannot accept applications for the new and expanded programs. Speakers at Causa’s event explained those and other developments in Spanish.

Political prospects

Schrader's district extends from the Mid-Willamette Valley into parts of Clackamas and Multnomah counties, and to the central coast.

Although in the minority party, Schrader says majority Republicans will lose big if they think they can block Obama’s executive actions as part of a spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security. The House-passed version bars such spending for carrying out the actions, but minority Democrats have blocked that version from coming to a vote in the Senate.

Unless the $40 billion bill passes, the agency will run out of spending authority by midnight Friday, Feb. 27.

“Republicans will be accused of shutting down the government — and we saw (with a partial federal shutdown in 2013) how that did not work to their advantage,” Schrader says. “Their leadership is acutely aware of that.”

In the same vein, Schrader says, Republicans who hold majorities in both chambers of Congress might come around to support some changes in federal immigration laws this year.

“I think they realize that the path to the presidency lies through the Hispanic community, a growing and legal presence in this country,” Schrader says.

“Republicans are desperate to get their votes, but they are not going to do it by opposition to immigration reform. They have to start doing it by integrating the Hispanic community into their base — and so far, they have not done it.”

The Senate, then under Democratic control, approved a bipartisan immigration bill in 2013. But it died without action in the Republican-controlled House.

According to an analysis of 2012 exit polls by the Pew Hispanic Center, Mitt Romney won only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote as the Republican presidential nominee — and Obama 71 percent.

Although no Republican presidential candidate has won a majority among Hispanics going back to 1980 data by Pew, the only two Republicans who won two terms made serious inroads. Ronald Reagan won 35 percent in 1980 and 37 percent in 1984; George W. Bush won 35 percent in 2000 and 40 percent in 2004.

Both were governors of states with large Hispanic populations — Reagan in California, Bush in Texas — as was Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor exploring his own bid for president in 2016. Jeb Bush’s wife, Columba, is of Mexican descent.

Schrader and Selma

A couple of years ago, Schrader was one of many members of Congress who went on a pilgrimage to Selma, Ala., the setting for several voting-rights marches in March 1965. The pilgrimages are led by John Lewis, one of the original marchers, who has been a U.S. representative from Georgia since 1987.

In the first march, known as “Bloody Sunday,” Lewis and other marchers were beaten badly as they proceeded across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The second march, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was largely symbolic and turned back in the face of state troopers.

The third march, also led by King and Lewis, made the 54 miles from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery in five days after they were guaranteed federal protection.

It concluded 10 days after President Lyndon B. Johnson urged Congress to pass a stronger guarantee of voting rights. “Their cause must be our cause, too … and we shall overcome,” Johnson said in invoking the movement’s slogan.

“I was profoundly affected by the remembrance of the sacrifices that a lot of people made to show they are part of this great country,” Schrader recalls about his experience.

“Immigration reform is probably the biggest issue of the 21st century. It will decide who is in charge of this country for the next 20 or 30 years.”

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