Washington-Despite a 4-week hunger strike and various activist efforts, Congress went on break this Friday leaving 11 million undocumented immigrants without a final resolution about putting the HR15 immigration reform bill to a vote in the House.
House Speaker John Boehner’s vote is the only thing holding it back right now according to president Obama who insisted there could still be progress with the bill next year. On an interview with Telemundo’s Jose Díaz-Balart, the president declared:
“We’ve got a bill that passed with bipartisan support, strong bipartisan support in the Senate. You’ve got a president who says that this is a number-one priority and he can’t wait to sign a comprehensive immigration reform bill. You’ve got the majority of the American public who are committed to immigration reform and support a pathway to citizenship for those who don’t have it,” he said.
“The only thing that’s holding it back right now is John Boehner calling it into the floor because we’ve got a majority of members of Congress, Democrats and some Republicans, in the House of Representatives, who would vote for it right now if it hit,” Obama continued. “So this is really a question that should be directed to Mr. John Boehner. What’s stopping him from going ahead and calling that bill?”
Apparently, the House speaker does not want to rush. Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, said that Boehner defends a “step-by-step” approach to immigration reform, which means taking up reform with a collection of bills, not a sweeping comprehensive bill like the Senate passed in June. Boehner reiterated that position at the press conference.
“Just understand something: I want us to deal with this issue,” he said. “But I want to deal with it in a common-sense, step-by-step way” he said.
This Thursday also marked the end of a four week long hunger strike by immigration reform activists steps away from the U.S Capitol in Washington D.C. Around 200 people have participated in different stages of the strike since November 12 hoping to see some changes before Congress went on break. Activists hoped this strike would get the attention of Republican members and highlight the daily sufferings of undocumented people fearing deportation and enduring discrimination and stereotyping in the United States.
Rudy Lopez, who was on day 19 of his strike told Dana Milbank from the Washington Post Writers Group, “We’re not here saying it has to be our way, and if not, we’re going to starve ourselves to death,” he said. “We want to highlight the suffering.” The hunger strikers’ efforts were recognized early on by leading Democratic members of the House of Representatives. The strikers even got a visit from President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle last month.
Unlike congress who takes breaks, activists have been working all year. Early in October, almost 200 children gathered in Washington D.C. for an event organized by the Fair Immigration Reform Movement. The organization fights for immigrant rights at the local and state level and the march in D.C. was an effort to pressure John Boehner to move an immigration reform bill forward.
The children who participated in the march represent so many facets of our broken immigration system. They have full or partial citizenship status; they have lost parents to deportation; they are haunted by thoughts of losing their loved ones. Yet, they will have to wait, at least until Congress comes back from break.
Here is a video that grabbed the media’s attention in October when two teenagers, 13-year-old Carmen Lima and 16-year-old Jennifer Martinez, approached the congressional leader.
The conversation was captured on video, with Boehner’s discomfort apparent. He did not look the young women in the eyes, though he pretended to listen. (Later that day he asserted he would not allow any House-passed immigration legislation to be blended with the Senate’s reform bill, saying, “We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill.”)
One of the young women in the video asks Boehner, “So, you are a father, how would you feel if you have to tell your kids… that you are never coming home? That happened to me.”