By Jon Melegrito
Letter from Washington
Inaction and Inertia in Capitol Hill
By Jon Melegrito
The 113th Congress may be taking a five-week summer recess August 1, but it doesn't mean partisan sniping will stop. Both parties are clearly posturing for the mid-term elections, pandering to their respective base. Republican intransigence takes the greater blame, however, for the dysfunction that has afflicted Washington.
Thanks to inaction by the Republican-led House, comprehensive immigration reform is dead. Not this year, anyway. And even less likely next year when partisans will be more fixated with scoring political points than overhauling the nation's broken immigration system.
Gone is the euphoria of April 2013 when the Senate at least summoned enough bipartisan spirit to pass what everyone thought was a practical solution. Immigrant rights advocates were hopeful, only to be disappointed yet again.
But the lull in legislative action was suddenly disrupted when thousands of underage undocumented immigrants from Central America started crossing the border last month. This unexpected surge has created a humanitarian crisis. Hardliners on the right blame President Obama's "leniency" for encouraging this "invasion." They have conveniently forgotten their role in passing an anti-trafficking law enacted under President George Bush. The 2008 bi-partisan measure has made it difficult to quickly deport unaccompanied minors from Central America. Their individual cases have to be reviewed and decided by immigration judges.
Meanwhile, what to do? President Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion to speed up processing and possible deportations for those who don't qualify. Those remaining will be reunited with relatives or placed in foster homes. However the outcome, the more than 5,000 minors will have to be taken care of.
It's dismaying to watch Americans rise up in protest, demanding immediate deportation of these children. Church leaders, on the other hand, are calling for compassion, leading the way in providing food and shelter while the legal process takes its course.
Enter Jose Antonio Vargas. As most everyone knows by now, this Filipino journalist and immigrant rights advocate came to the U.S. when he was 12 years old without legal papers. He is now the most popular undocumented immigrant after he told his story three years ago. Today, he continues to use his celebrity status to highlight the country's broken immigration system, identifying with the more than 11 million "illegals." Of this number, about 2 million are called "DREAMERS," based on a bill that would legalize minor children, whose parents came to this country "illegally."
Vargas, in a move clearly designed to call public and media attention to the immigration crisis, was arrested and detained briefly after attempting to board a plane in a Texas border town. It was a controversial but calculated political statement. Although he has been daring authorities to arrest him, he is actually a low-priority deportee because he hasn't committed any serious crimes that would warrant being kicked out of the country.
Still, many in the Filipino American community wondered why Vargas did not "make himself legal" when he learned about his status? Some are even questioning his motives, flaunting his plight in the movie "Undocumented."
But Sonny Busa, former Filipino American diplomat, applauds Vargas: "He never had a path to citizenship legally. He could have lied and obtained papers. He chose not to do that. He has a very compelling humanitarian story. I have been on the front lines of the immigration debate for almost three decades and there is very little I don't know about it. JAV is taking a heroic stand. He is daring the government to do something-anything. He asked to be arrested several times."
The Philippine government is also standing by him. The Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund (FALDEF) is prepared to defend him in court. And just as many in the Filipino American community are supportive of his admiral stance.
Writer and political observer Rita Gerona Adkins says that Vargas has no case, legally. But "morally, he is on the side of justice. But whether or not his actions, and that of other activists, will spur the do-nothing Congress to act is highly doubtful. Not as long as the Republicans are in charge."
And Republicans, the extremists and the Tea-Party diehards anyway, make no bones about their hatred for President Obama, making sure his presidency fails. Thus the moves to repeal Obamacare and derail immigration reform.
Donna Brazile, vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, has this reply when asked by The Washington Post if Barack Obama's presidency has made it easier or harder for a black person to become president? "In the aftermath of President Obama's election, I really thought it was time to write a book on reconciliation. That was 2009, a moment of euphoria. And I must tell you, I have been so disappointed. I mean, I understand the partisanship, because I'm political. But what I don't understand and what I haven't been able to wrap my head around is why all the vitriol? Simply because you want to destroy his presidency, you're destroying the country? So we have not turned that corner. We are not post-racial. And in many ways we don't even know how to have a conversation about being post-racial. Until we get out of that old-school way of thinking about race and opportunity and the ability to transcend some of the past of this country, then we're going to be stuck in the 20th –century conversation about race."•--Jon Melegrito