House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told immigration advocates that lawmakers will not take-up immigration reform this year. As a result, an amendment to deport DREAM-eligible immigrants — which passed with overwhelming GOP support in June — will be the only immigration measure to have received a vote on the floor of the House in 2013.
McCarthy’s remarks came after a week-long lobbying blitz from business groups, religious organizations, and immigration advocates. Proponents argued that comprehensive reform will provide a boost to the nation’s economy, create jobs for U.S. citizens and immigrants in the agriculture, retail trade, and construction sectors and bring millions of people out of the shadows.
But despite a series of constructive meetings with advocates, McCarthy explained to protesters camped outside of his district office in California that Congress did not have enough time to consider reform in the 16 remaining legislative days. The comments contradict reports of GOP leaders “struggling to come up with an agenda” to fill the end of the year with the House “facing no immediate cataclysmic deadlines.” Members come back from a week-long recess on Tuesday.
Last month, 186 Democrats introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill that amends the measure passed by the Senate in June by “striking a controversial border security measure that would add 700 hundred of miles of fencing and 20,000 border control agents along the U.S.-Mexico border” and replacing it with a “border control plan that was passed unanimously by the House Homeland Security Committee last spring.” That proposal “instructs the Department of Homeland Security to write a plan that could ensure the apprehension of 90 percent of illegal border-crossers in high-traffic areas within two years and across the entire southern border within five years.”
Three Republicans — Reps. Jeff Denham (R-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) — have co-sponsored the comprehensive bill. House leadership, however, is wary of allowing a vote on a measure that does not have the support of the majority of the Republican caucus and worry that advancing any immigration proposal that triggers a conference with the Democratic-controlled Senate would deal a blow to the House in final negotiations and open House Republicans to conservative primary challengers. Others attribute the House’s inaction to the government shutdown, arguing that President Obama’s refusal to repeal or defund parts of the Affordable Care Act has jeopardized the chances of passing comprehensive immigration reform.
Still, immigration advocates are not backing down. This week, a group of immigration proponents, faith and labor groups announced a new campaign to target nine House GOP lawmakers who have expressed support for establishing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The effort will call on the members, whose districts include sizable latino populations, to “show leadership in passing immigration reform with citizenship this fall or face the political consequences of blocking one of the best chances for real reform in decades.” The organizations remain hopeful that the House could move an immigration measure in April or May, after the filing deadlines for primary challenges.
Other groups are also planning civil disobedience actions in D.C. and across the country.
Following Tuesday’s special elections in Virginia and New Jersey, the pro-immigration group America’s Voice distributed a memo reminding Republicans of the electoral consequences of avoiding reform. The group highlighted polls showing that Ken Cuccinelli’s opposition to immigration reform hurt his showing with Latino and Asian voters in Virginia and contributed to his loss in the governor’s race. Meanwhile, Chris Christie’s “pro-immigration stances and investments in Hispanic outreach,” however, “dramatically improved his performance among Latinos compared to 2009.”
Congressional Republicans appeared to recognize the importance of appealing to the growing Hispanic population after suffering losses in the 2012 presidential election. In November of 2012, an aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) explained to the Wall Street Journal, “We understand that we can’t keep kicking this can down the road.” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) agreed, telling ABC News, “A comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I’m confident that the president, myself and others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all.”
McCarthy predicted that the House would act on immigration as recently as March. “I wouldn’t underestimate the House’s ability to pass the immigration bill,” he said said on CNN’s “State of the Union. “I think we have plenty of ideas on that, and I think there’s an opportunity that we can move the ball as well.”
And just last month, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, claimed that “there’s still time” to pass comprehensive reform in 2013. “I believe that we have a window here between now and the end of the year and that this is a priority,” she said during an appearance on Univision’s “Al Punto.”