Congress must stop hiding from immigration reform

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who is and has been an ardent opponent of legislation that would solve the crisis of our nation's broken immigration system, has written a letter to House GOP leadership arguing against attaching the ENLIST Act - a bipartisan bill that would legislate allowing young illegal immigrant veterans, who were brought to America by their parents while they were children, an opportunity to pursue American citizenship - to a broader defense authorization bill. In part, his letter states, “If immigration legislation is addressed by the House, it should be done so via the proper process, not by attaching it to must-pass legislation." 

The letter goes on to add, “This effort to shift the immigration debate to the NDAA and the House Armed Services Committee is improper and undermines Congress’ ability to properly debate immigration issues."

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The fact of the matter is that most members of the House agree with the policy of allowing "Dreamers," to earn legal status, including citizenship, if they serve honorably in the armed services. However, Brooks has a point. The house should take up this issue "via the proper process." Further, he is correct in stating that taking this issue up piecemeal, "is improper and undermines Congress’ ability to properly debate immigration issues."

I say that Brooks has hit the nail on the head. Congress should move immediately to taking up the full issue of immigration reform, and properly and fully, "debate immigration issues," as Brooks rightly suggests. Congress should not duck from an issue that is demanding resolution. Literally nobody believes that our immigration system is working for anybody - not America at large, and not our immigrant community in particular. Our immigration laws are so broken, it is severely undermining our economy, our national security, and is forcing an unprecedented 11,000,000 population to live in a terrifying shadow society where they are living in abject fear of an early morning knock at their door from I.C.E.. This huge population of hard working, and God loving people are unable to assimilate, pay taxes in a straightforward manner, or to pursue their American Dream.

Frankly, it is extremely hard to understand why Congress is failing to address this issue, particularly after the Senate has addressed this issue in a bipartisan manner. The Senate bill is not perfect. It remains the hope of many individuals and organizations - including the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and our 40,118 members churches - that the House would act responsibly, and will fix the flaws in the Senate bill. Right now, the politics of immigration are such that the House can literally dictate the terms of reform, and can pass legislation that will not even have to go to a full conference with the Senate to become law, (although that will change very soon). However, to date, we are waiting anxiously while the Congress sits on its hands and twiddles their collective thumbs. I note that the clock is running, and there are precious few sands remaining in the immigration reform hour glass.

This literally begs the question, "Why isn't Congress acting in the best and most pressing interests of the United States, and addressing this issue in a thoughtful and responsible manner immediately?" We don't get it. The Hispanic community doesn't get it. The immigrant community at large doesn't understand it. Our nation's business community doesn't get it. Our nation's law enforcement community doesn't understand why Congress isn't acting. Our nation's faith community is begging Congress to take this issue up, and regular folks from coast to coast are left scratching their heads and demanding that our nation's leaders pull their heads out of the sand, and do the nation's business; take up the issue of finding a legislative solution that will fix our broken and outdated immigration system. If not now, when?

Our nation is suffering. This issue is urgent, and all indications are that Congress has some really good ideas on how to solve this crisis. So, for goodness sake, why isn't Congress addressing this obvious and pressing problem? Is everything strictly and only about the next election? Can't good policy trump political expediency? In point of fact, if our friends in the G.O.P. are seriously concerned about the politics of immigration, they should listen to what virtually every political expert is saying. They should address immigration reform immediately, or be ready to face the unfortunate consequences should they fail to act.

Finally, I would humbly suggest that this issue is not about the next election. In fact, once the primary season is over, it would greatly enhance the G.O.P.'s ability to win the Senate in the fall if they prove themselves to be engaged with our very large and growing immigrant electorate. In reality, the need for the G.O.P. to heal their very damaged relationship with our immigrant communities is about political survival. If the G.O.P. doesn't solve their palpable immigrant relationship issues by dealing with immigration reform, they are going to find themselves perpetually looking at the White House from outside the gates of entry.

So I say to my friends in the G.O.P., you might listen to Brooks' suggestion, and schedule time on the floor for a thorough discussion as to how our Nation can solve the issue of our broken and outdated immigration system. It literally makes no sense to hide from this issue; not for the political implications, and certainly not for the policy implications. This issue is vital, pressing, and demands the full attention of our nations leaders - who I would remind were elected to solve our nation's most pressing issues, and not to hide from them.

Gittelson is vice president for Governmental Affairs at the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

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