Why The House Doesn’t Have To Pass A 2013 Immigration Reform Bill

on June 26 2013 2:46 PM
US Immigration Policy
A new policy to halt deportations of young undocumented immigrants has already boosted President Barack Obama's standing among Latino voters. REUTERS

Huge support for a “border surge” amendment this week may improve prospects for the main comprehensive immigration reform bill, which may clear the Senate with a solid majority. But that is no guarantee that the vote will send a strong enough message for lawmakers in the House.

On Monday, the Senate voted 67-27 to end debate on a border security amendment written by Republicans John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee. The Senate then approved the amendment, 69-29, Wednesday. Fifteen Republicans crossed the aisle, but how they will vote on the final comprehensive immigration legislation is not clear, although it is expected that the bill will pass the Senate handily. 

Some supporters of immigration reform like America’s Voice believe that the voting so far is a message to House Republicans to pass reform this year. For this group, robust bipartisan support in the Senate; strong public support; the need for the GOP to woo Latino voters; and optimism from prominent Republicans like former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, are four reasons why the House will pass immigration reform.

“Americans are much closer to having a working immigration system they can be proud of,” Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, said in a statement following Monday’s vote. “And House Republicans are much closer to their moment of truth. They either find a way to pass reform or find themselves blamed for blocking it. The ability of the GOP to be competitive in national elections depends on Speaker John Boehner and company getting it right and getting it done.”

Other reform advocates aren’t making such bold statements. 

Here are some of the reasons a comprehensive reform bill might not leave the House and reform could fail in 2013.

GOP Leadership Optimism Is No Guarantee

Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, is no doubt a powerful voice in the lower chamber. On Tuesday, he told CBS This Morning that the Senate's passing a border security bill makes it “more likely” that immigration reform will pass the House. At the same time, lawmakers in the House are working on their own immigration bill. It doesn’t look like a comprehensive one at this time, but it appears they could have a bill for each of their concerns. When that happens, the question then becomes can the two sides merge their ideas into one.

“Paul Ryan is an influential member, but he is one of 435 members, and a lot of other people have different views,” said Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA. “I’m modestly hopeful. …To be honest, I think [House members] are not sure yet how far they can go.”

Concern Lingers Over ‘Amnesty’ First, Border Security Later 

Unlike previously proposed legislation, the Hoeven-Corker amendment actually puts five tangible things in place that should act as “triggers” before green cards are issued. Even with that, Republicans are still arguing that their major annoyance -- reform that they say grants “amnesty” first and beefs up border security later -- still hasn’t been solved. They say while the number of border agents will double to 40,000, there isn’t any requirement to ensure those patrol agents are added before the undocumented are legalized.

Jon Feere, a legal policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies, said that was the same political mistake made in 1986 -- legalization in the beginning with enforcement to follow. He doesn’t think the 2013 Senate immigration reform bill stands a chance of passing the House in its current form.

“The result was that only a few years after the same amount of illegal immigrants were in the country,” he added. “The number went right back up. And it makes sense because people around the world respond to messaging, and the message was illegal entry to the United States is a legitimate path to citizenship. And if you send that message again we are going to get more illegal immigration again.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has also reportedly told his GOP colleagues in a closed-door meeting that the entire Senate bill will not be brought to the floor. That is regardless of strong Republican support, according to NBC News.

Latino Vote Is Long Term, Re-election Is Next Year

Republicans know that siphoning Latino votes away from Democrats gives them a chance at occupying the White House again. Despite that, members may see wooing Latinos as secondary to a more pressing problem -- next year’s re-election. With the presidential election three years away, it may just be the better gamble to secure a seat in the 114th Congress. But two studies released earlier this year by their own party reminded Republicans that it’s imperative they reach out to the Hispanic community.

“They know that the party will never see the inside of the White House until they get more of the Latino votes,” Jacoby said. “But many of them are also thinking about their own re-election next year and that might incline them to vote a different way. I’m not being pessimistic. I’m trying to be realistic and hold them to a realistic standard.”

Compromise In The House Is A Long Shot

Of course, overhauling immigration would be a big second-term victory for President Barack Obama. And with Obamacare already the law of the land (even with House Republicans still trying futilely to repeal it), there’s nothing they would detest more than handing him another victory so easily. Senate Republicans are already complaining that the process of passing the immigration bill in their chamber is akin to that of Obamacare, “pass it before we see what’s inside it,” and they want more time to read the bill.

“I think even a larger percentage of House members who are bipartisan rejecting the bill is a much bigger message,” Feere said. “The House receives legislation from the Senate all the time. Just because the Obama administration wants this bill to happen it doesn’t mean that the House has to even consider it.”

There is a glimmer of hope though, that if the House doesn’t pass a comprehensive package, it certainly will have pieces of legislation that deal with various concerns. The problem then becomes, according to experts, whether the two laws can be merged into one, and whether that will please both sides. For the House it is very likely that its bills will focus on enforcement first and foremost. Democrats want the 11 million undocumented immigrants to be put on a path to citizenship. Enforcement that makes that pathway harder or unattainable is going to be another problem. 

“People watching them should not be holding them to the standard of passing the Senate bill,” Jacoby said. “They should not be holding them to the standard of making President Obama happy. They are going to do something that holds them to a reasonable standard. The question is how far can they stretch? We just don’t know yet how far that is.”

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