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Activists Label GOP Immigration Agenda 'Mass Deportation'

Demonstrators in support of immigration reform shout as they watch a speech by Sen. Marco Rubio on a video screen outside of the Freedom Tower where Rubio is launching his Republican presidential campaign, Monday, April 13, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)Lynne Sladky / AP
/ Source: NBC News

The GOP 2016 field may still be picking its way through suitable campaign messaging on immigration, but activists already are defining their party's approach to reform: "Mass Deportation."

On the same day that House Republicans were holding a hearing on whether people born in the U.S. should get automatic citizenship, immigration and civil rights activists affixed that brand to Republicans in Congress and by extension, the party’s 2016 hopefuls.

“The GOP-controlled Congress has all but cemented its anti-immigrant legacy and may meet its destiny in 2016,” the activists said in a report they released Wednesday with the words “Mass Deportation” stamped on the report’s cover in bright yellow letters. The report was produced by the Alliance for Citizenship.

The cover has photos of several congressional members and juxtaposes a photo of Sen. Ted Cruz, who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination, with a photo of Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who has made headlines for years by labeling immigrants as drug mules and suggesting they be stopped at the border with electrified fences.

In defense of Wednesday's hearing, Wadi Gaitan, spokesman for the House Republican Conference, said: "Americans across the nation agree that in order to bring forward genuine solutions we must have an open conversation to examine all aspects of our immigration system."

Ruth Guerra, RNC Director of Hispanic Media, said in a statement, "These claims are baseless and inflammatory. Republican presidential candidates will have the opportunity to share their ideas and solutions on how to reform our immigration system, something President Obama and Democrats have failed to do for the past six years."

The activists' label conjures the failed immigration solution of Mitt Romney who said in his 2012 campaign that immigrants should self deport. He ended up earning just 27 percent of the Latino vote and President Barack Obama won re-election with significant support from Latinos as well from other racial and ethnic groups.

Clarissa Martinez de Castro, a deputy vice president at the National Council of La Raza, said there's still time for Republican candidates to better define their immigration agendas, but she said "it's not looking bright right now" since several have opposed President Barack Obama's use of executive authority to protect millions from deportation.

"So far, the only record (of the GOP) is a mass deportation strategy and that begs the question: Are the candidates in the same place?" she said.

The activists refer in the report to the House GOP as the “Deport Them All” caucus that they say is holding nativist debates, holding public anti-immigrant votes that go nowhere with no chance of becoming law, promoting witnesses from hate groups and threatening to shut down the Department of Homeland Security.

The report chronicles votes held by the Congress, bills introduced, amendments proposed and committee assignments made that they say detail how Republicans “fell off the wagon” after being chastened on immigration reform by Romney’s loss.

In a news conference, activists and congressional leaders said that pattern continued with the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the birthright citizenship bill.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said with the hearing, the GOP is "feeding the most mean-spirited of their base who still don’t believe President Obama the child of an immigrant is legitimately the president after he was elected and re-elected,” Gutierrez said.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus joined the news conference pointing out the amendment's history and giving constitutional guarantee of equal citizenship to black Americans.

In the report, activists criticized the witnesses the GOP calls to testify at its hearings.

Among the witnesses scheduled to testify at the birthright hearing was Lino Graglia, a University of Texas professor, an ardent opponent of affirmative action who stirred controversy in the late 1990s when he said black and Mexican-American students were not academically competitive with white students at top national universities and that their cultures were to blame for their inability to compete.