On Wednesday morning, two teenagers from the pro-reform group Fair Immigration Reform Movement Youth In Action, approached House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) at a diner to tell him that their families had been separated by the broken immigration system. Carmen Lima, 13, and Jennifer Martinez, 16, asked Boehner to advance immigration reform and he responded that although he was committed to moving the bill, it would not “be an easy path forward.”
CARMEN: You’re a father right?… So how would you feel if you had to tell your kids at the age of ten that you were never coming home?
BOEHNER: That wouldn’t be good.
CARMEN: That’s what happened to me. I thought I was never going to see my dad again because [inaudible]. And I cried so hard when my mom told me that, at the age of ten.
BOEHNER: Well, I’m trying to find some way to get this thing done. It’s, uh, you know, not easy—not gonna be an easy path forward. But I’ve made it clear since the day after the election that I’m going to get this done.
CARMEN: So we can count on your vote for immigration reform?
BOEHNER: I will try to find a way to move the bill forward. Thanks.
Mere hours later during a press conference, Boehner said, “We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill … I want us to deal with this issue, but I want to deal with it in a commonsense step by step way as we develop the principles, we’ll figure out how we’ll move ahead.”
The confrontation is just one of many efforts led by immigrant advocates to pressure Congress to act on immigration reform in recent days. Some 50 young immigrant children, who have at least one parent deported, will attempt to talk to Boehner on Thursday at his Capitol Hill office. And on Wednesday, faith, civil rights leaders, and other immigrant advocates around the country began fasting to protest inaction on immigration reform.
An Obama administration directive from August advised federal immigration authorities to consider family ties and whether undocumented immigrants are low-priority when they are detained. Yet the reality is that low-priority parents are caught up in deportation proceedings as well– at least 45 percent of all immigrants deported in 2012 have no criminal record at all. In Illinois alone, 56,000 children were left without a parent due to deportation in the last six years.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) responded in a tweet, “Actually it is easy, @SpeakerBoehner. With 190 cosponsors on H.R.15 and 28 Rs vowing support, we have the votes to pass #immigration reform.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney also responded, “I think [reform] could happen this year … Obviously, the House is the obstacle or the opportunity, and we, as I said, believe that if there were the will in the House to act quickly and decisively on comprehensive immigration reform, it could be achieved and it would receive a broad bipartisan vote in the affirmative.”
Carmen, one of the two teens who confronted Boehner, responded in a statement, “I didn’t know what to expect from the Speaker when I told him I could lose my father to deportation … But I did not expect he would lie to me and that’s what it feels like now.” Jennifer voiced similar sentiments, “It now seems like that was because he already had decided not to make good on his pledge to fix our broken immigration system.”