Prospects for Immigration Reform Remain Murky, Post-Shutdown28 Oct 2013
A sort of cooling-off period has begun in our nation’s capital, now that the government shutdown is safely behind us – behind us for now, at any rate. Amid sighs of relief and a drop in the collective blood pressure of official Washington, there is speculation about what comes next. The question on everyone’s mind is whether Congress finally will get back down to business, and turn its attention to immigration reform and other legislative concerns that were crowded off stage by the fiscal crisis.
Shortly after the shutdown ended, President Obama spoke from the White House about the need to move forward with several key agenda items that were stalled “for the duration” – specifically: passing a budget, reforming our nation’s immigration system, and passing the long-awaited farm bill. [See Remarks by the President on the Reopening of the Government, White House Press Office, 17.Oct.2013.] The President’s first priority, after fixing the budget – a tall order unto itself – is to pass meaningful and comprehensive immigration reform. Speaking from the State Dining Room, the President told reporters:
“…the Senate has already passed a bill with strong bipartisan support that would make the biggest commitment to border security in our history; would modernize our legal immigration system; make sure everyone plays by the same rules, makes sure that folks who came here illegally have to pay a fine, pay back taxes, meet their responsibilities. That bill has already passed the Senate. And economists estimate that if that bill becomes law, our economy would be 5 percent larger two decades from now. That’s $1.4 trillion in economic growth.
“The majority of Americans think this is the right thing to do. And it’s sitting there waiting for the House to pass it. Now, if the House has ideas on how to improve the Senate bill, let’s hear them. Let’s start the negotiations. But let’s not leave this problem to keep festering for another year, or two years, or three years. This can and should get done by the end of the year.”
Whether CIR will be done by the end of the year remains an open question. Many proponents of immigration reform are hopeful that the House GOP has learned its lesson from the shutdown they precipitated, and will be eager to show the voting public that they are not obstructionist by nature, but perfectly capable of finding common ground when the national interest demands it.
For example, technology guru, Steve Case, a founder of America Online, recently told the Washington Post that he is “cautiously optimistic” that CIR will make it through Congress this year. Even during the shutdown, Case said, House leaders like Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Eric Cantor (R-VA), and Paul Ryan (R-WI), were still discussing ways to fix our immigration system. [See With Shutdown Over, Attention Turns to Immigration Reform – But is it Too Late?, by J.D. Harrison, Washington Post, 18.Oct.2013.] If the financial future of our country is really so important to us, Case argued, why not pass immigration reform? “The best way to ensure our fiscal future is to boost entrepreneurship and innovation, and the best way to do that is to pass immigration reform that helps us win the global battle for talent.”
Notwithstanding the persuasiveness of Mr. Case’s position, other observers are more skeptical, their expectations chastened by the scathingly acrimonious tone of the budget and government shutdown debates. They wonder aloud whether this has poisoned the well, making any bipartisan cooperation unlikely, if not impossible. There is ample evidence to support this view, too. Consider, for example, the recent pronouncement by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), an influential member of the House Tea Party faction. According to USA Today, Rep. Labrador said flatly:
“It’s not going to happen this year. After the way the President acted over the last two or three weeks, where he would refuse to talk to the speaker of the House… they’re not going to get immigration reform. That’s done.” [See Unlike Shutdown, GOP says Democrats Must Bend on Immigration, by Alan Gomez, USA Today, 17.Oct.2013.]
Given the thrashing the House GOP took in the debt-ceiling fight, largely following the Tea Party script, there’s a chance that non-Tea-Party Republicans – who hold the majority in the House GOP – may be more amenable to cutting an immigration reform deal with House Democrats. A chance, but don’t hold your breath: the longer it takes for tempers to cool, the less likely it is that an agreement will be reached before adjournment in December. Come January, the mid-term election cycle kicks in, meaning that even in the best-case scenario, time is running very short indeed.
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