New Momentum for CIR?

After the Senate passed its version of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) earlier this summer, proponents of CIR had the sense, at least briefly, that political momentum was on their side. That said, few were optimistic about CIR’s prospects in the House, and virtually everyone expected a difficult uphill slog, at best. Could it be that CIR is once again gaining momentum?

Looking back on the August Congressional recess, it would seem so. Several articles note that opposition to CIR has been rather thin on the ground, during town hall meetings and other public events in the home districts of Republican House members. [See Anti-Immigration-Reform’s Laid-Back Summer, by Anna Palmer,, 20.Aug.2013, and Immigration Reformers Are Winning August, by Molly Ball, The Atlantic, 21.Aug.2013.] Invariably, they point to the failure of Congressman Steve King to attract more than a handful of demonstrators to his much-ballyhooed rally against immigration reform in Richmond, Virginia. According to The Atlantic, the rally was sponsored by the Tea Party Patriots and NumbersUSA, which expected hundreds of people to attend. So where were the outraged masses?

By all appearances, they were at home, or sitting on their hands. CBS Dallas suggests another explanation: that the same people who oppose CIR also oppose Obamacare, and were more worked up about health care than the so-called “amnesty” issues raised by the Senate bill.

In the meantime, as the Capitol Hill newspaper, The Hill, reports, reliably conservative pro-business groups are pressuring GOP House members to line up behind CIR this fall, and move the finished product to the President’s desk. The big push is coming from high-profile players like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and other key business representatives. [See Business Groups Upbeat on Fall Deal to Move Immigration Bill, by Vicki Needham, The Hill, 25.Aug.2013.] In their view, CIR is an economic necessity, and failure simply is not an option. Even if the House moves ahead with plans to pass a series of smaller immigration reform measures, representatives of NAM, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and The Business Roundtable told The Hill that the most important thing is to keep the process moving, and reach a deal that will fix our immigration system.

Though many supporters of CIR are concerned that the House’s piecemeal approach to immigration reform will prevent any reforms from passing this year, some on the right fear the opposite. Writing in the conservative National Review, Fred Bauer argues that even if the House only passes a series of small-bore immigration bills, the far more ambitious Senate legislation will set the terms of debate when House and Senate conferees meet to hash out the final version: “Instead of being independent pieces of legislation, the House’s piecemeal immigration measures would become mere details in a broader Senate-driven bill.” [See On Immigration, Conference Means Ruin, by Fred Bauer, 22.Aug.2013, National Review Online.] According to Bauer’s National Review article, the piecemeal approach lets CIR opponents have it both ways: they can “talk tough” while supporting individual House immigration bills, but emerge with enough political cover to pass a Senate-dominated conference bill in the end.

Signally absent from the National Review piece is the note of triumphalism that marked the rollout of the piecemeal approach earlier this summer, when House GOP leaders seemed convinced that their new strategy would give them full control of the immigration reform process. If this is now open to question, even in the National Review, it could mean that momentum has shifted once again, in favor of the comprehensive approach to immigration reform – and the Senate bill. Stay tuned.

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