Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Fear and ignorance kill immigration reform efforts

The blundered effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform in Congress reminds me of the children’s story The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

For those who don’t remember, a boy on a hilltop charged with watching the village sheep becomes bored and amuses himself by screaming – “wolf, wolf!” – just to see the villagers run up the hill to chase away the fake intruder.

Similarly so, the death of immigration reform in the U.S. House has been foretold several times during this crucial year. Wolf, wolf, it’s dead, it’s dead.

But now, for real, the wolf has appeared.

Immigration reform is really, really dead – that’s the conclusion of pundits of all stripes and lawmakers, in favor and against the sweeping measure passed by the Senate exactly one year ago Thursday to legalize the status of 11 million undocumented immigrants, and at the same time, reinforce border security.

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Mark the calendar: Summer of 2014.

Last week, the reason twirled around for the death of reform was the loss in a Virginia Republican primary of House Majority leader Eric Cantor to a tea party rival who was staunchly anti-immigrant.

To make the failure to reach a deal even more grim, this week the blame is being placed on what’s being labeled “the nail on the coffin” - the continuous arrival at the U.S.-Mexico border of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America.

But the resistance has existed from the onset. Republicans don’t want to compromise on a bill that offers permanent status and a path to citizenship to the undocumented. The children’s exodus from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador is only the latest excuse for fixing a broken system that has only led to this moment in time.

No matter how extensive and diverse the support for reform is – from the business community to law enforcement to the favorable results of national polls – there’s no way to move the needle in the one group that mattered most: House Republicans.

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"Nothing’s going to happen," a frustrated Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., told the Washington Post after a blistering speech on the House floor. “My point of view is, this is over…Everyday, they [Republicans] become not recalcitrant but even more energetically opposed to working with us. How many times does someone have to say no until you understand they mean no?”

What a difference elections make.

In the aftermath of strong Hispanic voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election, the Republicans panicked and the bipartisan immigration reform bill smoothly passed in the Senate.

In the House, however, another story has played out, accentuated by the Cantor loss, and earlier, the backlash against Marco Rubio, R-Florida, once dubbed “ The Republican Savior“ for his support of bipartisan immigration reform.

But it was the Republicans’ irrational fear that all those undocumented immigrants would earn their path to citizenship – and become Democrats – that killed reform. Had they believed the undocumented were more likely to be conservatives (as they could very well could be, especially if the Republican leadership didn’t express so much disdain toward them), there wouldn’t be anything to debate.

But the wolf of immigration reform – fear and ignorance – was always lurking in the woods. Shepherd boy crying wolf, or not, it was going to eat the sheep one way or another.

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