By Nancy E. Miller & Frances E. Arroyo
Months after the Senate passed Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill S.744 with overwhelming bi-partisan support, those in power in the House of Representatives, including the Speaker, have refused to allow the bill to come to a vote. Instead, the Republican majority in the House have “piecemealed” the Senate bill into several bills focusing heavily on border security, criminalizing the undocumented and allowing the states to aggrandize the federal government’s constitutional power over immigration enforcement. This piecemeal approach however came to a standstill over the protracted debate on the appropriations bill passage, or lack thereof, responsible for the sixteen day shutdown of the federal government. Now that the federal government has reopened and with only a few weeks left in the legislative calendar for 2013, will immigration reform rise above party politics and become the law?
In an effort to continue with the immigration reform momentum, the House Democrats took leadership on the issue and unveiled their own bi-partisan immigration bill. They proposed comprehensive immigration reform legislation similar to the immigration bill passed by the Senate. The main difference is the issue of enforcement and border security. The House Democrats’ bill does away with the border security amendment. The border security amendment included provisions to increase the number of federal border agents and to build a seven hundred mile fence along the southern border. In the House Democrats’ bill, the border surge amendment is replaced with Border Security Results Act, H.R. 1417, which requires the development of a comprehensive strategy plan to gain and maintain operational control of the country’s international borders.
In an effort to push the bill through the House of Representatives, three Republicans members have signed onto the House Democrats’ immigration bill within this past week. The Republican House members who have come out in support of the bill are Representative Jeff Denham (R-CA) Denham, followed by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. David Valadao (R-CAL). These representatives are now proactively working with 186 Democrats to co-sponsor a plan that would give millions of unauthorized immigrants the chance to attain citizenship, which is the best news the reform movement has had in some time.
Even with three Republican House members support, the immigration bill needs 218 votes to pass the House. Currently, the Democratic bill has 186 Democratic co-sponsors. Three additional Republican votes would be insufficient for a majority for passage. In a continued effort to pass immigration reform, Republican co-sponsors in support of the bill are reaching out to those House members who oppose the bill to negotiate its provisions. House Republicans in support of the bill are pushing for any reform, whether it is comprehensive or piecemealed before the end of the legislative calendar year. Democratic House member Luis Gutierrez, a long-time supporter of immigration reform believes the piecemeal approach will win at the end. With the added support from some House Republicans within the past few days, immigration reform has made real progress.
In the other hand, there are some House Republicans who steadfastly refuse to negotiate reform before the 2014 elections. Supporting immigration reform in some of the Representatives districts may prove deadly for their re-election prospects. And, of course, the House Republican leadership can choose simply to not allow the bill to come to a vote during this legislative cycle. Given that immigration reform runs on no strict deadline, its passage may not be in the legislative agenda. Even if the House does not put the bill to a vote, a discussion on the issue in some way is expected, according to conversations between the House Leadership and Representative Jeff Denham.
For those undocumented immigrants who have no immigration relief available or who need to wait years before a visa becomes available, the prospects of reform in Congress are not dead. Progress is evident in the ever changing minds that have come out in support of reform across party lines. With a Republican majority in the House however, the reality is that they have the negotiating advantage. In order for reform to pass, Democratic House members must acknowledge the evident; they need the House Republicans on board. Reform, if it comes at all, may come piecemeal. But, when you are hungry, a piece of a meal can be better than nothing at all.