Election Recap: What Now for CIR?

The only thing we can say for sure is that last week’s mid-term elections decisively shifted the balance of power toward the Republicans. The GOP wrested control of the House of Representatives from Democrats with a new and substantial majority, while whittling the Democratic Senate majority down to a bare preponderance. The Republican “red shift” extended to governors’ mansions as well, with the GOP now holding 29 of 50 state executive positions, the very people who will preside over the Congressional redistricting process that happens every ten years, following the decennial census.

Precisely what this means is unclear as yet, but one can make some educated guesses. Taking the state governments first, expanded GOP power puts the party in a better position to shape the electoral districts in a way that favors their candidates – just as the Democrats will do, to the extent they can. This could help the GOP to increase, or at least hold, gains in Congress over the next several election cycles.

What should we expect on the federal level, post election? With a thinner Senate majority, and decimated ranks in the House, Democrats will have even less ability to set the legislative agenda than when they (at least nominally) controlled all three corners of the legislative triangle – House, Senate, and Presidency. By the time election season was in full swing, Republicans had abandoned any efforts to work with Democrats on a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill. We are likely to see similar gridlock when the newer, still-less-immigrant-friendly Congress takes office in January.

This is not to say that immigration won’t be a factor in the new Congress – far from it. The onus will now be on Republicans – at least in the House – to resolve the long-standing tensions in their party between the border-security types and the pro-business faction that wants a streamlined immigration system that will allow businesses to hire the workers they need from overseas when the domestic supply of, say, high-level software engineers, is not sufficient to grow their business here. With power comes responsibility; the GOP’s newfound power in the House will make it imperative for the them to find their voice on immigration, now that they can’t simply stand back and say “no” to Democratic proposals.

That said, a Bloomberg Businessweek article published on Election Day predicted that the new Republican majority would put the kibosh on hopes for a business-friendly easing of current immigration restrictions. (See Republican Election Gains May Stall Business’s Immigration Push, by Laura Litvan, Bloomberg Businessweek, 02.Nov.2010.) This could stymie attempts to bring more low-skilled workers in for jobs in the agriculture and hospitality industries, and might make it harder to raise the cap on H1B visas for high-skilled workers, as many technology companies advocate. The GOP, predicts the Bloomberg Businessweek article, is likely to remain focused on tightening the border, at the expense of a business-friendly overhaul of the immigration laws:

“Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican slated to head the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration policy subcommittee, said in an interview that he opposes lifting visa caps for lower-skilled foreign workers because doing so would depress U.S. workers’ wages. He said he would support increasing the number of visas for higher-skilled workers only if the potential employees meet criteria to boost the U.S. economy.”

Democrats will have their work cut out for them, too. Latino voters helped Democrats to limit their losses, remaining loyal to the Dems despite their disappointment with the lack of progress on immigration reform. With a skin-and-bones Senate majority, and a resurgent GOP in the House, Democrats will be caught in a desperate position on CIR, needing to deliver the goods to their Latino supporters without having the votes to ensure that what eventually passes – if anything – is actually palatable. Amid all of the crystal ball gazing, there is room to hope – even if it seems highly unlikely – that some kind of immigration compromise may be forged in the fires of partisan bickering, but if any immigration reform legislation passes in the next two years, “comprehensive” probably will not be a fair description.

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.