Some advocates and opponents of an immigration overhaul are already balking at a possible plan by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that aims to make progress on a 2013 immigration reform bill in the lower chamber.
Politico reported Tuesday that Pelosi plans to introduce legislation that marries a comprehensive measure that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with a House border security bill.
In May, a bipartisan majority voted to advance reform legislation in the judiciary committee that would provide a path to citizenship for the undocumented. That bill also increases the number of visas available for high-skilled workers along with border and workforce enforcement mechanisms. The same month, the House Homeland Security Committee also approved a bipartisan bill by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, requiring the Department of Homeland Security to create a strategy for securing the nation’s borders in two years.
“There’s no final decision how they are going to roll this out yet,” a Democratic aide told the International Business Times on Tuesday. “We are trying to move this thing down the playing field. … We’re working with leadership to make sure the Democratic caucus is united around a bill.”
But some Republican advocates aren’t taking Pelosi seriously and say it is very unlikely she will gain much, if any, Republican support. The reason for this, according to ImmigrationWorks USA President Tamar Jacoby, is that the border security element is just one of several problems Republicans have with the Senate’s measure.
If anything, said Jacoby, a proponent of reform, Pelosi is setting up Republicans to look like the bad guys in all of this.
“I see this not as a serious effort to get a compromise but a sheer political play so that Nancy Pelosi can then say, ‘Well, I tried but Republicans wouldn’t cooperate,’” Jacoby said. “You offer people food you know they don’t like and then you’re surprised, then you go around claiming, ‘I tried to feed them and they wouldn’t eat.’ You offer people food they’re allergic too and you’re surprise when don’t take a bite and you go around complaining that they won’t eat it. It’s not very serious.”
Not surprisingly, opponents of the Senate's overhaul have also weighed in on the proposed strategy. Admitting it is indeed difficult to speak at length about a bill that is yet to come, they say the main problem with the Democratic approach is that it puts “amnesty” first.
For analysts at the Center for Immigration Studies, a better approach would be to ensure enforcement -- border security, E-verify etc. -- are in place (fully litigated) before any legalization takes place.
They also want Democrats to take the House’s proposals seriously, as Republicans fear any bill leaving conference that look much like the Senate’s.
According to Jon Feere, legal policy analyst at Center For Immigration Studies, the goal of the "Gang of Eight" and the White House is to get the current House to pass anything so as to get something to a conference committee. At that point, “The plan, from the White House’s perspective, is to turn that into something as close as possible to the Senate bill, which repeats the mistakes of the past,” he said.
“My concern is that the enforcement provisions in a comprehensive bill will never see the light of day,” he added. “And the legalization will happen immediately.”
‘Obama’s Credibility Is Shot’
Distrust for President Barack Obama and his administration has caused two more Republicans to walk away from a House bipartisan group seeking an immigration solution. Lawmakers aren’t the only ones fearful of Obama’s decisions at times to unilaterally enforce the law.
In the case of immigration reform, both advocates and lawmakers have pointed to Obama’s use of executive action to spare those brought here illegally as children from deportation, and also his decision to delay portions of the health care law for a year.
Because of this, the president’s words are no good in their circles.
“Looking at the way the president has dealt with immigration over the last five years, he seems more than willing to administratively narrow the scope of enforcement,” Feere said. “President Obama would likely drag his feet on the enforcement provisions.”
“It’s just a matter of action speaking louder than words,” he added. “Right now his credibility is shot.”
Pressuring The Republicans
It’s not just the Center for Immigration Studies that thinks Pelosi’s plan is not sincere. Members of Heritage Action, the political arm of the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, think the minority leader’s planned proposal goes beyond getting 218 votes.
“I don’t know if she is expecting to pick up votes so much as to put pressure on Republicans to act and to use this as a way to potentially embarrass them for not acting,” said Dan Holler, communication director at Heritage Action. “The reason things have not advanced in the House is because there is a large degree of skepticism as to how a bill would work, especially an amnesty first bill. That has always been a sticking point in the House and there is nothing that Pelosi or [House Speaker John] Boehner or anybody else can do to change that short of giving up the amnesty.”
Suggestions For Moving Forward
If Obama and the Democrats want a 2013 immigration reform bill to clear Congress, then they need to concentrate on working on where there is agreement: legal immigration. If such legislation were to be tackled by itself, Holler said, you could see a bill pass the House and pass the Senate and signed into law.
“The amazing thing out of all this is that there is widespread agreement that America’s immigration system is broken,” he added. “Nobody disagrees with that really. There is a lot of agreement on how to reform the legal immigration system. Sure there will be differences between labor and business -- there is obviously some stuff to work out there -- but generally people recognize there is a need to have more high-skilled immigration.”
But the core issue of the debate is what to do with the 11 million undocumented; currently, as a stand-alone proposal, a bill that grants them a path to citizenship doesn’t have a high chance of survival.
Still, Holler maintains that an immigration system that works with today’s economy, enforcing the laws on the books and securing the border, must come before talks can commence about bringing the undocumented out of the shadows.
“Make sure you get everything working right, and then you can figure out what to do with the folks who are here illegally,” he said. “That’s sort of the common sense approach. But it’s Washington, so common sense typically goes out the window.”
Do Republicans Want To Hand Obama A Victory?
House Republican contend that they will work on piecemeal bills so they can do immigration reform on their own terms.
And even though top House members like Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Bob Goodlatte are both working on bills that address legalization, whether or not an immigration reform bill passes Congress in 2013 is dependent on “how interested the GOP is in giving president Obama a political victory,” Feere said.
But he said it will be hard for the House GOP to follow Pelosi’s lead, not only because she is a Democrat, but because it simply politics.
Laura is a U.S. politics reporter for the International Business Times. She was always fascinated by the BBC World News each morning on the radio in Jamaica. That, and a love...