White House Not Pushing Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR)

Is CIR DOA? In last week’s State of the Union address, President Obama focused most of his speech on his plans to address the nation’s ongoing economic woes, devoting a scant couple of lines to immigration reform, saying: “…we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system, to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nation.” If you blinked, you missed this passing reference to what was once among the President’s top legislative priorities.

This leaves many to conclude that immigration reform will no longer be a legislative priority for 2010 – at least, not for the White House – and without the President’s enthusiastic backing, it is increasingly doubtful that CIR will see Congressional action until after the hotly-contested midterm elections this fall.

Like the President, the House of Representatives will not be rushing to do battle for CIR, either. Late last year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the Senate would have to take the lead on controversial legislation in the 2010 election year, so that House members would not be forced to spend scarce political capital making tough votes that could cost them in November – especially if the Senate has no intention of taking up a companion measure. Heroic as it might be, few House Democrats will want to take a stand on a one-house immigration bill – not in this political climate.

So, the onus is on the Senate to take up CIR this year – if it comes up at all. Still, it is too early to pronounce CIR dead on arrival. Senator Charles Schumer of New York, a Democrat, is expected to introduce a much-anticipated CIR bill in the next several weeks, a product of ongoing work with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. As a Washington Post article noted, both camps are trying to drum up support for a bipartisan bill, albeit without setting a timetable for completion. (See: Chances are Dim, but Advocates will Still Push for Immigration Reform, by Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post, Feb 1, 2010.) According to the Post, both parties may need some concrete accomplishments, some evidence they can work together, after a stormily contentious session of Congress.

Time is obviously a major factor working against CIR this year, given the bigger issues crowding this year’s agenda – resolution of the health care debate, followed by a jobs bill and a financial-reform measure. According to CIR advocates cited in the Post article, “if the health-care debate is resolved quickly, an immigration bill could pass, putting the chance of success at 10 to 15 percent.”

Even the Senate Democratic leadership does not seem eager to reinvigorate the CIR debate this year. Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, was quoted in the Post giving tepid support for passage of CIR in the coming year: “It’s something we’re committed to do, and we’ll do it as soon as possible.” Not a ringing endorsement. The optimistic interpretation is that CIR still has a pulse, however weak it may be. Stay tuned.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.