It’s clear now that Congress isn’t remotely interested in fixing a broken immigration system — not to please those on the right who want more control of our borders, nor those on the left who want a pathway to earned legalization for millions of illegal immigrants living in the United States.
Lately, I’ve been traveling around the country debating this issue with representatives of both camps, and the one point of agreement across the board is that the current system is unfair, unworkable, and unsustainable. Everyone wants Congress to do something to make the situation better, even if they disagree vehemently about what “something” would look like.
So it’s a real shame that, as evidenced by recent events, Congress isn’t serious about doing anything.
We know this because every single Senate Republican — despite their pro-military rhetoric, their sermons about taking responsibility, and their contention that we shouldn’t give something for nothing — actually undermined those principles by voting against the DREAM Act.
First proposed as a separate bill in 2001 but recently repackaged as an amendment to a defense bill, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act is intended to teach those young people who are in the United States illegally to take responsibility for their situation and allow them the chance to make restitution. It offers them “conditional permanent residency” if they came before they were 16 years old and if they attend college or serve in the military. Once they graduate or complete their enlistment, they get permanent legal residency with a chance to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship. Anyone who doesn’t participate by enrolling in college or joining the military could be deported.
It doesn’t get any more “Republican” than that. And yet not a single Republican senator had the courage to cross party lines and support this measure because it’s the right thing to do. They preferred to talk about how this was a “backdoor amnesty” and deny the other party a political victory in an election year. In the end, with Democrats unable to round the 60 votes necessary to prevent a filibuster, the amendment was defeated.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, we know that Democrats are no more serious about immigration reform because, when they’re not playing politics with the issue for partisan gain, they’re willing to expose the subject to ridicule.
Despite all their somber rhetoric about how people are suffering and hiding in the shadows, and their pleas for how we need to stop separating families and provide avenues for people to come to the United States legally, House Democrats recently did something very undignified. They stood by while comedian Stephen Colbert was called to testify before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law.
Colbert’s area of expertise: of all things, how illegal immigrants are essential to the farming industry. He got the congressional gig because he spent one day working on a corn and vegetable farm in upstate New York as part of a public awareness campaign launched by the United Farm Workers. The goal of the campaign was to drive home the point that Americans won’t do the hard and dirty jobs commonly done by immigrants and those who say otherwise are kidding themselves. It’s a fair point, and the UFW was right to make it.
Still, it was a tragic mistake for Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-CA, who chairs the committee, to call Colbert as a witness. Once there, he did what he does best: stand-up comedy. In hamming it up before Congress in a self-indulgent performance that undermined the very point he was trying to make, Colbert did the larger cause of immigration reform more harm than good.
In both cases, lawmakers showed that they were more interested in what the immigration debate could do for them rather than what they could do for the immigration debate.
And after all the tragedies and comedies on Capitol Hill, where have we arrived? The immigration system is still broken and people all across the political spectrum are demanding that their leaders fix it. That’s not likely to happen for a long time.
It’s tempting to say that, with his one-liners, Colbert made a mockery of Congress’ handling of the immigration issue. But it’s not exactly fair. Lawmakers from both parties beat him to it.