When Will Congress Take Up Immigration Reform?

Created: 11 April, 2014
Updated: 14 October, 2022
3 min read

When President Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012, immigration reform was spotlighted as one of the main issues to undertake during his second term in office. Republicans even appeared to be in support of these efforts: Hispanic and Latino voters, who made up 10 percent of the electorate, voted for Obama over his GOP challenger, Mitt Romney, by a 44-point margin.

Republicans began soul-searching after the loss and realized the positions of the more conservative wing of their party had turned off that growing constituency. In the aftermath of the election, many Republicans identified immigration reform as a key area that could attract more Latino voters in the future if they were to be competitive nationally in 2016.

In 2013, this strategy began to take hold as the Senate successfully

passed one of the most significant overhauls of the nation’s immigration laws with broad support and a 68-to-32 majority vote. The bill provided a 13-year path to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., which was paired with tougher border security measures for the future.

The bipartisan jubilation was short-lived, however. Led by a group of conservative Republicans, the House of Representatives refused to vote on the measure. Many tea party members opposed the bill, which they referred to as ‘the amnesty legislation.’

House Speaker John Boehner argues that without a majority of the majority supporting the measure, the bill should not be brought to the floor. Known as the Hastert Rule, speakers have used this tactic as a way to limit the power of the minority party since the mid-1990s.

Ten months later, the prospects appear slim to none that any immigration bill will make it to the House floor before the midterm elections.

Earlier this year, Boehner appeared ready to work on the issue and released a set of alternative principles in January which outlined a way for undocumented immigrants to live in the U.S. without fear if they were willing to admit culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, and develop proficiency in English and American civics. These principles provided no path to citizenship.

Even though these measures would be far from the Senate-passed bill, Republicans, again, balked on support. Boehner also mediated his position just a week after he released the principles, citing too deep a distrust between the GOP and Obama to pass legislation in 2014.

In an election year, tea party members are holding strong against any reform, and moderate Republicans, fearing potential challenges in the primary, are falling in line.

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Just last month, Paul Ryan

told local Wisconsin newspapers that Republican leaders do not have the voters to pass widespread immigration reform. A poll of House Republicans found that just 18 members publicly supported Boehner’s measures.

Democrats, though, are making one last push.

Earlier this year, Senator Charles Schumer offered to invoke the discharge petition, a legislative maneuver that -- if it receives enough signatures -- would bring the measure directly to the House floor and bypass the regular committee process. However, this measure is rarely successful and seen more as a way to put pressure on the GOP to address the issue.

Former speaker Nancy Pelosi also launched a road campaign to push immigration reform in places as far flung as Miami, Los Angeles, and even Laredo, Texas.

Her efforts may very well be in vain, though, as the House has consistently stonewalled these legislative attempts for over a year. As the campaigns heat up, hot button issues -- such as immigration -- frequently get sidelined. Furthermore, after the election, the 2016 presidential campaign will be in full swing.

Unless the GOP returns to its post-2012 election mode and seriously focuses on attracting Latino voters, reform might be pushed off again.

As national politics appear as deadlocked as ever on immigration reform, state legislatures are taking matters into their own hands. Nationally, 437 laws were passed on the issue in 2013 alone. The states' growing impatience with Congress’ inability to act on the issue may be the best hope for meaningful reform.

Photo retrieved from Urban Cusp

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