Immigration reform appears to be dead in this Congress. According to recent reports, Speaker Boehner told President Obama that the House would not take action on immigration legislation this year. This is a moral failure of leadership.
The resounding message from the Republican House leadership is that politics is more important than the suffering of families. In the end, the thousands of stories that evangelical Christians have brought to Republicans don’t matter to them. There is no other conclusion to be drawn.
President Obama responded with an announcement that his Administration will take executive action to attempt to fix some of the inhumane consequences of this horrible system and “try to help relieve the suffering” as faith leaders asked him to do in a meeting at the White House this week. Republicans will likely decry his efforts as “overreach” and claim he is failing to enforce the existing law. But obstructionism on the part of the Republican-controlled House, instead of addressing the moral failures of a broken system, is shameful. The fact that this President has deported a record number of people renders these protests both cynical and dishonest. If those who refused the moral opportunity to fix this broken system now oppose the President’s efforts to protect suffering families and people, many of us in the faith community will say back to them, “How dare you, and shame on you.” And many of us will be at the President’s side and have his back.
This development is deeply discouraging for the vast majority of Americans who support common sense immigration and for the leaders within the evangelical community, like myself, who have invested years urging Washington to act. While there are lessons we should learn and new strategies to formulate, it is important to recognize that we have not been defeated.
In a well-known passage in the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel describes a valley of dry bones. The imagery is clear: death and destruction have won. Then Ezekiel, following God’s commands, begins to prophesy. The bones start connecting, tendons forms, and skin begins to cover them again. Life is breathed back into them. Resurrection has occurred. Hope has triumphed over despair.
This is the reality for immigration reform. Reform will happen. Too many Americans support it, in all our political parties, for politicians to ignore them for much longer. There is enough agreement on the necessary changes—including reforming the visa process, addressing questions about the future flow of immigrant labor, and providing a legal way to become members of our society for the millions of hard working and law-abiding people who have made the U.S. their home—that the policy debate is largely over. It would provide a desperately needed boost to our economy and help secure our borders, goals both parties claim to share.
The question is not whether immigration reform will pass but how many more people will suffer before it does. The answer from John Boehner and the House – at least for now – seems to be that many millions will continue to suffer. That means countless more families will be broken up, parents and children will be living in the shadows of society, and the lives of so many will continue to be jeopardized every day. The thousands of children fleeing violence in Central America highlight the humanitarian crisis being perpetuated by the status quo. An orderly, smart, and humane immigration system could have helped here.
That the outcome of this legislative irresponsibility will be a set of limited actions taken by a constitutionally constrained President, and a continuation of failed policies is worthy of our deepest lament.
Some of the most powerful people in the country will spend the next days, weeks, and months laying blame in order to avoid the public holding them responsible. I hope and believe we are smart enough to see through this ridiculous veneer. The bottom line is that immigration reform failed because an extreme wing of the Republican Party held their leadership hostage out of political and racial fear—and their party leader didn’t have the moral courage to stand up to them. Few others will say that so frankly and succinctly. As a Christian I believe that truth has a liberating power. Those who have blocked immigration reform should be held accountable—and many Hispanic and Christian voters are vowing to do that.
We see the human costs of this moral failure on a daily basis. This is why the faith community will be working tirelessly to breathe life into the dry bones of immigration reform. We are not going away, and we will surround the politicians with our prayerful presence until this destructive immigration system is fixed and healed.
Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The UnCommon Good is available in stores.