House Republicans Stall On Immigration Reform, Blaming Other Priorities

CREDIT: J. Scott Applewhite/ Associated Press

Capitol Hill (2)August recess is over and Congressional leaders have their hands full with an agenda that includes a short-term spending bill, a potential government shutdown, and Syria. Immigration reform has become something of a back burner focus for House Republicans.

The Senate introduced their bipartisan bill in April and passed their bill two months later. Before the August recess, House members said that they would take up a reform bill in the fall. Key House members met secretly for years at night in the Capitol complex to discuss an immigration overhaul.

But now conservative commentators and politicians alike are pointing to Syria as a new reason that immigration reform may be crowded out of a chance of being considered in 2013. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said, “It’s just one more thing drawing attention and calendar time away from immigration. So it doesn’t help. It doesn’t necessarily doom it, but it’s certainly not helpful.”

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), a key member of the House immigration team, said on Sunday that immigration reform wouldn’t be considered until 2015. And the chances of budging on reform during an election year is likely slim, but necessary given that the Senate immigration bill, a key momentum driver, will expire in 2014. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) recognized the danger of pushing a contentious bill during an election year, saying, “It will be a very critical time in the life or death of this legislation. It’s very important that we try and act before the end of this year, as we move into next year and an election season.”

As much as House Republicans are aiming to push immigration reform off the slate for another year, there is no clear reason as to why reform cannot be taken up simultaneously with any of the other issues. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who has called the 2010 DREAM Act “unfair” and “ripe for fraud,” recently called the Senate immigration bill, “unconstitutional” and would allow “dangerous criminals to be released back onto our streets.”

He was around in 2010 when two other politically sensitive issues were simultaneously brought before Congress at the end of the calendar year. In 2010, Democrats and Republicans had an ongoing power struggle, but Congressional members still allowed the DREAM Act and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) to come to a vote, during an election year no less. House members brought DADT to a vote four days before the end of the Congressional calendar and the DREAM Act to a vote eight days beforehand. This time around, House members have 38 full days and the backing of at least 25 Republicans who support a pathway to citizenship.

Proponents have indicated that immigration reform can be taken up alongside other pressing issues because it can help with the budget deficit issue. Marshall Fitz of the Center for American progress explains:

[…]while the House grapples with budget questions this Fall, immigration reform presents a golden opportunity for them to show their seriousness about growing the economy and reducing deficits. There is broad bipartisan consensus – now formally endorsed by the nonpartisan CBO – that immigration reform will trigger strong economic growth while significantly reducing the deficit. Passing immigration reform is not only popular, it is fiscally prudent.

House Republicans may not feel an immediate sense of urgency to pass an immigration bill that includes a pathway to citizenship. Goodlatte has stated that he will not set an “artificial deadline” for immigration reform. But there will be consequences for their delay. Minorities are moving outside of southwestern state borders. And soon, Asian, Latino, and newly-naturalized citizens will “make up more than a third of all newly-eligible voters.” Additionally, 50,000 Latinos turn 18 and become eligible to vote every month.

Meanwhile, the Senate immigration bill is set to expire in 2014. What remains to be seen is whether Congressional members will once again find excuse for dismissing an immigration reform bill at a time when one-third of the Senate’s 100 seats will be up for grabs next year. With an annual average of 400,000 deportations, waiting for 2015 may be simply too much time.