Washington often loses sight of the common good. Instead of considering how to best serve the public, many of our elected leaders focus on advancing the agenda of their political party or their own careers. The general welfare is sacrificed for the sake of individual gain. Immigration reform is a textbook example.
Despite poll after poll showing clear and overwhelming support for reform among across a wide spectrum of Americans—Democrats, Republicans, Evangelicals, tea-party voters, etc.—legislation remains stalled in the House of Representatives.
But the moment of truth has arrived.
Both prominent Republicans and Democrats agree that legislation must move through the House before the beginning of August or it becomes dead because of the hard realities created by legislative calendars and election-year political dynamics. The looming 2016 presidential contest—and the primary season that begins the day after the 2014 midterms—means that if this Congress fails to pass immigration reform it may not happen for years. This would represent not just a political disappointment but a moral failure.
According to House Speaker John Boehner the major obstacle within the Republican caucus is a lack of trust in President Obama. While I would challenge the validity of this reasoning, the president has now called the speaker's bluff by delaying a promised review of deportation policies until summer's end. This decision is a significant concession to House leadership in the hopes that a long-term, sustainable solution remains achievable and that the House is serious in its intentions to pursue immigration reform. This gesture of good faith demonstrates the president's sincerity. It places the proverbial ball squarely in Boehner's court.
The president's announcement followed the release of a statement made by several prominent pro-reform organizations, which urged the speaker and his House colleagues to seize the moment to enact commonsense immigration reform. Sojourners, the national Christian social-justice organization that I lead, was among them. We asked the president to be cautious in taking administrative action and respect the legislative process unfolding in the House. As we mentioned in our collective statement, pro-reform groups like my own also realize that should the House fail to act then the administration, "will have an obligation to use whatever tools are at its disposal under the law to prevent the tragic family break-ups and economic disruption that has become the daily norm."
Unfortunately, the initial response from the speaker's office to this latest development amounted to business as usual. Instead of graciously acknowledging the administration's concession and reiterating a desire to solve this national challenge, Boehner's spokesperson accused the president of "playing politics with … our national security." With all due respect to Speaker Boehner, this statement is a great example of why Congress's approval rating remains in the single digits. Instead of seeking ways to work together for the good of the country, every issue becomes a proxy war for larger ideological battles. It is unbecoming for our elected leaders to play such juvenile games. It is time for them to end.
At its heart, immigration reform is about people, not politics. Inspired by the teachings of our faith and deeply concerned about the suffering and degradation the current system imposes on millions of people created in God's image, evangelicals and many other people of faith have been steadfast in our support for congressional action to fix and heal this moral crisis. Many groups within Speaker Boehner's own Catholic tradition, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have been relentless in their advocacy. Thus far our pleas have been met with excuses and delay that border on callousness.
It is time for a vote in the House of Representatives on immigration reform. There is one person who stands in the way of that happening. A strong majority of representatives stand ready to fix our broken immigration system. The president of the United States has deferred to the House. Now we need leadership from the speaker's office that is focused on the common good instead of the same old Washington politics.
Jim Wallis is the president and founder of Sojourners, a national Christian nonprofit focused on articulating the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope, and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world. The paperback version of his latest book, The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided, will be released June 3.
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