A hardworking cleaning lady stopped me as I walked past the other day. Her kind and gentle face tight with concern, she asked if I thought there was any chance for immigration reform this year. “My husband needs it so bad,” she said with a sigh.
A Caribbean Latina, she has been a naturalized citizen since the Reagan-era amnesty that ended the last immigration crisis. But she worries daily that her undocumented South American husband, father of their three young U.S.-born children, will be swept away, deported in the dark of night like so many of their friends over the years. He came here illegally using someone else’s identification, and since he has to leave the country to apply for legitimacy, they worry that he will never be allowed back in.
“It doesn’t look good right now,” I had to admit. “Not as good as it looked before. But you never know,” I ended lamely.
The only bills likely to reach the floor of the House for a vote are those strengthening border security or requiring employers more rigorously to identify the immigration status of their workers or toughening the penalties against those who employ the undocumented.
The harsh fact is that the momentum for immigration reform is utterly gone. It has been crushed by competing causes as disparate as poison gas and Obamacare. As we fret whether to bomb Syria or defund the health care law, the 11 million undocumented immigrants remain as unsettled as the husband of that worried cleaning lady.
“It’s disappointing. It’s depressing. The Republicans hate the Democrats, and everybody blaming Obama, and he can’t do nothing,” she searched for a word to explain what her family’s life is like. “Suspended,” I offered. “Yes, that’s it. Suspended and always afraid.”
It goes beyond a busy legislative agenda. Aside from distractions far and near, legitimate and illegitimate, there is also a dirty secret. Most of the Republicans in the House of Representatives have zero intention of allowing a vote on comprehensive immigration reform. The anti-reform forces will not take the chance that their more moderate colleagues will decide to compromise on fundamental principles. So the legislators who control the pace and order of business won’t even allow the Senate bill to be considered, much less voted on.
There is a fundamental revulsion against cutting any slack to those who came here illegally, almost regardless of age or circumstance. And the bottom line is that whether the position is informed by race or politics, xenophobia or morality there are enough House Republicans opposed to reform to make the process a bad joke.
And there is the poison pill. Because the Senate bill promoted by the bi-partisan Gang of Seven contained a path to citizenship for the undocumented, it never had a chance among those hard-right, Heartland members of the House.
And now they are perpetrating a hoax.
House Speaker John Boehner effectively killed comprehensive immigration reform when he embraced the so-called “piecemeal” approach to legislation. “Piecemeal” does not mean the various components of the Senate bill are all to be considered separately. None of the five Republican-sponsored bills offer a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented. The only bills likely to reach the floor of the House for a vote are those strengthening border security or requiring employers more rigorously to identify the immigration status of their workers or toughening the penalties against those who employ the undocumented.
They won’t even pass a law corroborating President Obama’s executive order saving innocent kids from deportation.
Our battered president gave an interview to Telemundo earlier this week. And it was only because it was an interview with a Spanish-language network that the issue of immigration was even raised.
"The only thing that's holding it back right now is John Boehner calling it onto the floor. What's stopping him from going ahead and calling that bill?" He then went into his memorized mantra promoting the doomed legislation’s reasonable goals. "We need to continue to make sure that our border security efforts are sound. We need to make sure that employers who are taking advantage of undocumented workers are penalized. We've got to improve our legal immigration system so that people aren't waiting for years to get into the country when, in fact... we should welcome them. And finally, we should have a pathway to citizenship." Notice how he saved the best, the path to citizenship, for last?
I wish I had a better answer for that hardworking Latina and her family. I would be proud to count them among my fellow Americans. But it’s not going to happen anytime soon.