Opinion

Moment of Truth on Immigration Reform Is Now

With the administration willing to delay executive action, people expect the House to get to work.

Jim Wallis is the President and Founder of Sojourners, a national Christian non-profit focused on articulating the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church and the world. 
National Journal
Jim Wallis
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Jim Wallis
May 30, 2014, 1 a.m.

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 worldThe pa­per­back ver­sion of his latest book, The (Un)Com­mon Good: How the Gos­pel Brings Hope to a World Di­vided, will be re­leased June 3.

HAVE AN OPIN­ION ON POLICY AND CHAN­GING DEMO­GRAPH­ICS? The Next Amer­ica wel­comes op-ed pieces that ex­plore the polit­ic­al, eco­nom­ic and so­cial im­pacts of the pro­found ra­cial and cul­tur­al changes fa­cing our na­tion, par­tic­u­larly rel­ev­ant to edu­ca­tion, eco­nomy, the work­force and health. Email Jan­ell Ross at jross@na­tion­al­journ­al.com. Please fol­low us on Twit­ter and Face­book.

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