It used to be said that Congress is a collection of former school class presidents who grew up hoping to be leaders in Washington, D.C., someday. They are in Washington, all right, but where are the responsible leaders?
The void is really noticeable on immigration reform, an issue that everyone says needs to be dealt with but only a few are willing to bring forward. Then, when a Republican member goes out on a limb to advance a bill, GOP opponents of immigration reform trash the idea of the member who actually tried to lead.
Here is a case in point. Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said some in his party are afraid to vote on immigration reform because it’s a tough issue.
“We get elected to make choices. We get elected to solve problems and it’s remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don’t want to. ... They’ll take the path of least resistance,” the speaker told a hometown audience last week.
But once the school yard bullies started beating up on Boehner and again threatened his future as speaker, the Ohio Republican walked back his comments. He pivoted back to the scripted message that Republicans will not act because they do not trust President Barack Obama.
Voters don’t have high regard for Republicans’ handling of immigration either, but is not a reason not to act.
Voters want action on a comprehensive immigration bill with a path to citizenship and not the politics of self deportation. We want Congress to do its job for the good of our economy, our families and our collective values as a nation of immigrants. In the Latino community, we also are very aware that every day Congress does not act, real people suffer. About 1,100 people are deported and separated from their families every day.
Boehner’s initial comments were on the mark and he should have stuck by them. If we all listen closely, we can hear a low rumble of more House Republicans beginning to side with their speaker and not the nativists who oppose immigration.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the No. 4 Republican in the House, predicted an immigration reform measure could get a House vote before Congress’ August recess.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., a longtime supporter of immigration reform with citizenship, told CQ Roll Call that work on a bipartisan bill could be nearing the deal-making stage. Another Republican backer of the path to citizenship, Rep. Peter T. King of New York, wrote a letter to Boehner urging action, stating, The reality ... is that we are not going to deport 11 million immigrants.” Two Illinois Republicans, Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Aaron Schock, also recorded videos calling for immigration reform.
Yet, we have heard nothing recently from the second and third members of the GOP leadership, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California. Cantor, considered a likely candidate for speaker, did not include immigration reform on the House’s spring calendar. McCarthy, meanwhile, simply keeps his doors locked to constituents seeking immigration reform with an earned path to citizenship. But if he did his job, he would know that immigration reform can pass in GOP-controlled House if only the leaders would allow a vote.
As an immigrant who became a citizen after President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, I know what it is like to be separated from family members and fear never being able to see them again. I know what it means to work and to contribute and to learn to love my adopted country and to be a proud citizen and promote its democracy.
So it is disappointing to see the democratic process fail on Capitol Hill; to see the school yard bullying and the lame excuses for not doing the required work. To say that Republicans won’t debate because they do not trust or like the president is worse than a kid saying, “The dog ate my homework.”
It’s time for responsible leadership to take control and silence the lame excuses for inaction. The nation needs this bill and the voters are frustrated by Congress’ fears to act.
Immigration reform with citizenship is good policy and Congress can be on the right side of history by ending the suffering of the immoral immigration system that now exists.
House passage also would be a good political move. The Latino community will never forget who stood on our side and who blocked action. If anyone doesn’t believe me, just ask Mitt Romney.
Ben Monterroso is executive director of Mi Familia Vota.