On Nov 19 2013 by Klasko Immigration

Comprehensive Immigration Reform is not dead, but its prospects for this term may be on life support.

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On June 27, 2013, after months of hard-fought negotiations on both sides of the aisle and political spectrum, 68 senators voted to pass S. 744, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.” Without a doubt, this Bill was truly bipartisan. Forged during marathon negotiations between the so-called “Gang of Eight” as well as the Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO, there are elements in S. 744 to please and annoy just about everybody. This attempt at modernizing our immigration system gave us the prospects of liberalizing the computation of the annual immigrant visa quotas, increased border security, additional numbers and procedural restrictions on H-1B visas, making the EB-5 Regional Center program permanent, and eliminating the Diversity Visa and family-based immigrant category for siblings of US citizens. And, of course, the vote on S. 744 signaled a bipartisan approval of a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, the undocumented, and those out of status, which is perhaps the most controversial element of all.

But after June 27, not much else happened.

Following Independence Day, House Speaker John Boehner indicated that the House would not take up the Senate Bill. The idea, instead, was to approach fixing the immigration system in a more piecemeal process through a series of bills. During the August recess, members of our local AILA chapter met with eastern Pennsylvanian Republican House members from arguably “swing” districts, but each toed the party line. Once Congress went back into session after Labor Day, the attention shifted to the deadline on the continuing resolution to fund the government with a looming shutdown and debt ceiling default. Despite a national effort of the political Left to bring the issue back to the forefront of the media narrative, pundits were already calling the effort dead. The day after the shutdown started, a group of Democrats introduced H.R. 15, largely similar to S. 744, which even attracted limited Republican support. Once the government reopened its doors following the shutdown, the President urged the House to pass immigration reform by the end of the year.

But again, not much else happened.

It’s now approaching Thanksgiving. Congress in session until this Thursday and then closed for the rest of the calendar year except for December 2-13. Speaker Boehner has ruled out the prospects for voting on anything comprehensive this year. As far as 2013 goes, it is safe to pronounce immigration reform as dead. The House’s third-ranking Republican has confirmed as much.

As we approach 2014, the prognosis for passing immigration reform is not nearly as strong as it was heading into this year, but there exists a few windows of opportunity for the House to pass a comprehensive bill.

Congress will go back into session on January 7. However, we must consider the figurative “elephant in the room” or perhaps better said as those elephants waiting in the wings. Next year will be the midterm elections where every House member’s candidacy will be decided at the polls on November 4. But the real battles happen months in advance. Next Spring, a majority of the states will be holding their primary elections. Considering how the primary elections tend to bring out the base of both sides of the aisle, it is difficult to imagine a scenario where House Republican primary hopefuls will run on a pro-comprehensive reform platform given the leadership’s (and much of the base’s) opposition to comprehensive legislation to date.

The period in between the primary elections and the general election may, however, provide some opportunity. As we saw in 2012, Latinos (a group associated by the political media as being staunchly pro-comprehensive reform), skewed heavily towards President Obama and the Democrats. Although this year provided less of a litmus test given the relatively few off-year races, immigration-related issues did provide somewhat of a wedge in this month’s Virginia Gubernatorial election where anecdotal evidence supports the notion that Latino support helped carry the Democratic candidate to victory in a very close race.

Will there then be pressure for House Republicans to push for a vote on a comprehensive bill in 2014? It’s certainly possible. However, one must consider that many analysts only consider a relative handful of House seats to be competitive given the nature of the majority of Congressional districts. With this as the status quo, it is difficult to imagine a scenario with the Speaker reversing course with the support of his party. On the other hand, there is always the possibility of a headline-grabbing event occurring that will galvanize support, the efforts of coordinated grassroots campaigns coming to fruition, or a shift in the political winds that opens up more venues for electoral competition. In other words, one can never count out the effects of a political “game changer.”

Finally, one must also consider the possibility of immigration reform occurring in the so-called “lame duck” session between the general election and the swearing in of the 114th Congress. The 2010 post-midterm lame duck session garnered a margin just short of defeating a filibuster on the DREAM Act. Perhaps late 2014 will be different.

But the biggest challenge to immigration reform in 2014 could be time. The House Majority Leader has released the legislative calendar for next year and there are relatively few working days in D.C. This calendar grants members at least one week off every month, in addition to the entire months of August and all but two days in October. Given that another debt ceiling and budget battle looms, and that the citizenry will face another polarizing election cycle, it’s easy to imagine nothing getting done in D.C. in this short period of time.

But until the last day of the 113th’s Second Session, many supporters will continue to hold out hope that the work already done towards Comprehensive Reform comes off life support and begins to breathe on its own again.