Republican House leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor have a balancing act going forward on immigration reform. PHOTO: Reuters
Immigration reform will be the topic in Washington for the next month at least, and what is a vast and difficult issue in reality can be understood politically if you have a few key concepts.
1. The Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform 68-32
Every Democrat (plus the two independents who caucus with the Democrats) and 14 Republicans voted for immigration reform. Thirty-two Republicans voted against the bill, but that is still a measure of bipartisanship rarely seen on large consequential bills these days. Immigration reform now heads to the House, but let’s spend a little more time on the Senate bill.
2. The Senate bill beefs up border security, enforces an employment verification system and creates a long pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
The immigration package passed by the senate has other details, including a fast-track for skilled workers, but those three planks are the main ones. The fence on the U.S.-Mexico border would be beefed up, a “border surge” would nearly double the number of troops stationed along the border, and employers would be forced to use an e-verify system to check to make sure that the workers they hire may legally work in the United States. The pathway to citizenship would take 13 years, and require that undocumented immigrants register with the government and start to pay taxes.
3. The House wants to do piecemeal instead of comprehensive immigration reform
What sounds like a difference in methods is really a dispute over policy. The Republican-controlled House is driven by its more conservative wing, and it is very unlikely that they would pass the pathway to citizenship component by itself. Instead, they would prefer to pass increased border security and e-verify, and then perhaps a more draconian pathway to citizenship, which would likely start with leaving the country. The Senate bill represents a sort of “grand bargain” in which two major initiatives to stem the flow of undocumented workers are packaged with a pathway to citizenship.
4. The only reason reform has a chance of passing is that Republicans want to make amends with the Latino community.
Mitt Romney lost the Latino vote 71-27%. With Latinos accounting for more and more of the population, the GOP cannot win a national election if those numbers, or something close to them, hold. While the center-left Senate and the far-right House are unable to come together on taxes, the environment or, really, you name it, the GOP is motivated to do something on immigration reform, and that leaves some hope of this actually happening.
5. House Republicans will try to out-bipartisan Senate Democrats.
Politico reported that John Boehner and other Republican House leaders are reaching out to Democrats to see how many they could pick off in a piecemeal bill. Senate Democrats got nearly a third of Senate Republicans to vote with them. To not isolate themselves, House Republicans need a good bipartisan counter. For now, everyone is playing nice, with key figures in the Senate saying that the House’s piecemeal approach could potentially work for them. Expect the House to act slowly and conservatively, and for things to get more contentious as the months drag on.