In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Time for Boehner to act on immigration reform

It is only poetic justice that the year would end with House Speaker John Boehner cast in the starring role of the Grinch Who Stole Immigration Reform.

After all, the bottle of Merlot and the Thanksgiving turkey that immigration advocates gave the Republican from Ohio didn’t do anything to soften the speaker’s heart or inspire a willingness to call a House vote on the bipartisan bill passed by the Senate last summer.

Nor were Boehner and his Republican colleagues moved by almost a month of fasting by immigrant families on the National Mall.

And so, with the reform bill stalled in Congress since the fiscal battles and the Affordable Care Act commandeered the limelight, the frustrated advocates are resorting to dramatic and symbolic gestures to call attention to their plight.

Who can blame them?

On Monday they staged a skit on Capitol Hill featuring a green-faced “Grinch Boehner” and a troupe of adorable children from immigrant families who delivered boxes of holiday wishes stamped “Denied” to Republican members of Congress.

They confronted Boehner during breakfast at his favorite D.C. deli (maybe not such a good idea to come between a man and his coffee) and they held a pray-in (a better idea, given the fondness of conservatives to push their religious beliefs on others) on the doorsteps of his suburban Cleveland home.

Republicans didn’t wait long to respond, calling the tactics “harassment.”

I call them desperate measures by people who are suffering the repercussions of the House’s inaction because the speaker doesn’t have the political wherewithal to call a vote.

“If bringing this struggle to the doors of Congress is harassment, then we’re happy to do it,” said Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro, director of civic engagement and immigration for the National Council of La Raza, at a press conference Tuesday, in snowing Washington, by leaders of several influential national Hispanic civic organizations.

The disappointment and frustration is understandable.

At this time last year, in the aftermath of a presidential election in which Latino voters played a key role in re-electing President Barack Obama, there was hope of a better outcome.

Hope sweet hope.

It fueled the momentum that brought together a bipartisan group of senators — the “Gang of Eight” — to write a comprehensive immigration bill that would modernize the system, further secure the borders, and provide a path to legalization and eventual citizenship for some 11 million undocumented immigrants living in constant fear of deportation and family separations.

Arduous, long hours of bipartisan work went into the bill, and as the year wore on, the case for immigration reform was made in terms Americans understand best — the impact on their pocketbooks.

Economic studies showed legalization would increase revenues from tax-paying — and investing — immigrants. Bill endorsements came from high-profile entrepreneurs and technology leaders.

Polls indicated that the majority of Americans — 88 percent, according to one survey — were in favor of immigration reform. As a result — and despite the ugly anti-immigrant rhetoric that characterized Senate committee hearings from the tea party wing of the Republican Party — the bill passed the Senate in June.

Now there’s only a small window of opportunity for Congress to vote on the House bill in early 2014 before the mid-term election campaign season — and only if another budget showdown doesn’t again steal away the moment.

Given that scenario, advocates have focused on Boehner — and are making the point that if Republicans, as one advocate put it, “ever want to have a president, they need to pay attention to this issue.”

Advocates vowed that there would be political repercussions against those who oppose immigration reform — and announced that they’re keeping a congressional “scorecard” on immigration reform that they will use to campaign in every congressional district next fall.

No one will be spared, they said, not even Democrats.

“They’ve been deporting our community and we’re going to vote to deport them out of office,” said Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota Education Fund.

Who can blame them for the tough talk?

This isn’t a Congress that acts because it’s the right thing to do.

Maybe after the mid-term elections, Boehner will wish that the only thing advocates had interrupted were his breakfast — and that the only role he might have been fit to play was that of Santa Claus.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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