A House Divided 

Shutting down the government also shut down immigration reform in the House of Representatives.

The recent shutdown of the federal government is now behind us, and unsurprisingly it was America's poor and those who depend on government services who suffered the most during the Republican temper tantrum.

But for the 11 million undocumented persons who call the U.S. home, the shutdown was nothing more than business as usual from a federal government that refuses to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

click to enlarge immigration-reform.jpg

This Republican-led House of Representatives likely will be remembered for inaction and obstruction, because its most radical members do not believe in federal government as a promoter of social peace. As such, the current House has refused to act on immigration reform, which passed the Senate in July with broad bipartisan support.

Shutdown or no shutdown, the U.S. government continues to prioritize deportation: About 1,100 people are deported daily, a number that did not change during the recent shutdown. These mass deportations separate families, create enmity, and deprive a struggling economy of workers, purchasers, and taxpayers.

President Obama would like to sign comprehensive immigration reform, because nonpartisan economists, law enforcement officials, and human rights activists agree that providing a legal framework for undocumented workers benefits the country. Our best opportunity for comprehensive immigration reform in a generation, since the 1986 reform, is now in the hands of a House of Representatives that does not believe in its own mission statement: to govern.

The extremists who shut down the government are also responsible for failing to act on immigration reform. The Republican-controlled House does not support immigration reform that offers a pathway to citizenship for undocumented persons in the U.S. Calling such people "criminals" and referring to any pathway as "amnesty for lawbreakers," this House of Representatives has demonstrated a single-minded tenacity that is neither principled nor courageous. It's narrow-minded and mean, and it will have clear consequences in upcoming national elections.

Nearly 50 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson — a hard-boiled Texas Democrat — predicted that by signing the enlightened civil rights legislation of 1964, his party would "lose the South" for a generation. He was proven right, and his commentary and actions in spite of the consequences show a principled politician placing important national aspirations over petty regional politics. Now, the Republicans, through irresponsible legislative inaction, are laying the groundwork to lose the national Hispanic vote for a generation and perhaps longer.   

The vast majority of voting Hispanics and others who understand that immigrants enhance our economy, culture, and society with energy and dynamism are bound to think twice before voting for the party that squelched comprehensive immigration reform at the final hour. 

Young people and others who believe that the so-called Dream Act youth should be given the opportunity to live in peace and achieve their potential in the only country they've ever known are turning away from this Republican Party, the party that offers neither creative solutions nor sympathy to youngsters who hope to contribute to our collective culture and economy.

So we're stuck with Republican recklessness: They forced a shutdown of the government and threatened to push the country into default while rejecting any attempt to legislate on much-needed, extraordinarily moderate immigration reform. This sorry state of affairs can only be corrected through the democratic process.

The American electorate is certainly better, smarter, and more moderate than its congressional leadership, and the electorate will hopefully act to build a more harmonious Congress in the near future. Future historians will look to this period as a very strange (and, we hope, temporary) season of intolerance and intransigence, terms that never translate to good governance, social peace, or democratic expansion.

Bryce W. Ashby is a Memphis-based attorney. Michael J. LaRosa teaches history at Rhodes College.

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