John Boehner, my generation is counting on you

John Boehner is failing my generation, millennials who demand comprehensive immigration reform.

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S744) is a bipartisan immigration overhaul that would provide a path to citizenship for our country’s eleven million undocumented immigrants while securing the border and further penalizing sequential unlawful immigration. Passed by the Senate in June, the bill has since been stonewalled by Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio). Even though enough House Republicans have pledged to vote with Democrats on S744 to reach a majority, the bill’s passage is unattainable unless Boehner brings it to the floor for a vote. His refusal to do so, typical of an overall inability to compromise, is a failure in leadership of the greatest proportions.

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Perhaps John Boehner can learn something from the millennials affected by his inaction.

In early October, I spoke on a school panel about immigration reform. Representing the Columbia University Democrats, I was joined by my counterpart from the College Republicans to discuss S744. Mindful of Speaker Boehner’s impasse, the audience and even I expected our conversation to resemble House intransigence. Instead, it more closely paralleled the compromise displayed by the Senate “Gang of Eight,” the four Republican and four Democratic senators who jointly authored S744. By stripping the immigration debate of its usual hyper-partisanship, we were able to reach a consensus on the need for comprehensive reform.

Yes, there were areas where we disagreed. And naturally, both our hesitations over certain provisions and our promotions of others reflected party line concerns. But our views were equally colored by personal experience; throughout the discussion, we both put name and face to an otherwise anonymous piece of legislation. And in incorporating the personal, we managed to establish common ground with each other even when unable to find it with the bill. As the progeny of immigrants, she the descendant of Mexican grandparents and I of Polish Holocaust survivors, our shared passion for reform was conceived long before we were, in our stories of self.

When asked towards the evening’s end if, in a hypothetical situation where each of us were members of congress, we would vote in favor of S744, we concluded that the bill’s strengths far outweigh its weaknesses and both responded that we would. Like the Senate “Gang of Eight,” we bridged partisan divide by making concessions, swallowing our pride, and reminding ourselves of the millions whom reform would help. Speaker Boehner should take a lesson out of the millennial playbook, stop playing politics with people’s lives, and bring reform up for a vote. My generation is watching.

College students have an exceptional voice that must be heard in the debate over immigration reform. Privy to membership in a community that prizes pluralism instead of penalizing it, that deifies data rather than dogma, we see reform as both a moral and economic imperative. And beyond compelling our hearts and minds to action, we support reform for the ways our education will benefit. With the passage of S744, many of our undocumented classmates would qualify for citizenship. Our access to learn under those with transglobal worldviews would expand once the cap for green cards allotted to qualified professors and researchers is removed. Additionally, our country would reap the benefits of its investments in non-citizen students, as those with offers of employment here who have earned a master’s degree or higher in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields from accredited U.S. institutions of higher education would qualify for visas.

As students, my Republican counterpart and I are part of a constituency set to benefit from reform. If John Boehner were pro-student, he would bring S744 up for a vote. The business community would benefit too; comprehensive reform would shrink our budget deficit, create jobs, grow the economy, and improve worker productivity. If Boehner were pro-business, he would bring S744 up for a vote. Under current immigration law, families are torn apart as loved ones are deported and children are left parentless. If Boehner were pro-family, he would bring S744 up for a vote.

To truly be an advocate for students, businesses, and families, Speaker Boehner must now advocate for the immigrants he has willfully ignored, giving them the vote they deserve. Our country has only two options: sink or swim. There is no in-between, and John Boehner’s refusal to act courageously is drowning us all.

John Boehner is failing my generation, and he can do better. He must.

Narin is a freshman at Columbia University studying Creative Writing and American Studies. She is also the Freshman Representative for the Columbia University Democrats and an ardent supporter of immigration reform.