Possible Pitfalls

It is possible—though not, at this point, probable—that the House will pass an immigration reform bill before the end of the year. But even if the House passes a bill, it may not be a bill that the Senate will accept. There are two main ways a House immigration reform bill could fall short of what it needs to pass through Congress and become law.

While a pathway to citizenship is an essential component of any immigration reform bill that will pass in the Senate, the opposite is nearly true for a bill to pass in the House. The House of Representatives has opted to craft several small immigration reform bills rather than one comprehensive bill, which means that if a pathway to citizenship came up for a vote in the House, members of the House would be free to reject the legislation without threatening other aspects of immigration reform. If Democrats continue to vow that immigration reform can go nowhere without a pathway to citizenship, and Republicans continue to vow that reform cannot move forward with one, then the issue may be dead in the water.

The second highly tenuous aspect of immigration reform legislation is the guest worker deal. Both Republicans and Democrats tend to lean in favor of making it easier for American companies to hire highly skilled foreign talent. The Chamber of Commerce and labor unions have been at odds over the issue for some time, and the bill passed by the Senate contained a compromise between the two groups. The guest worker part of the Senate bill is so delicate, say some insiders, that really any alteration to it would end its effectiveness. If the House of Representatives is serious about passing immigration reform that contains a guest worker program, the House likely needs to adopt that part of the Senate bill as-is. The House, however, has its own ideas about the guest worker program, and the idea of adopting the Senate compromise wholesale may not sit well with some members of the House.

The guest worker program was the last major issue the Senate needed to hammer out for inclusion in the immigration reform bill. “This issue has always been the deal breaker on immigration reform, but not this time,” said Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York. The agreement concerned the pay levels of low-skilled immigrants. Guest workers, it was decided, would be paid either the actual employer wage or the prevailing industry wage—whichever is higher. Additionally, guest workers would be eligible for citizenship and would be allowed to switch jobs. It is an open question whether the balance struck in the Senate bill can be duplicated in the House.

Source: TPM, “Top 5 Reasons Boehner’s Plan For Immigration Reform May Blow Up,” Sahil Kapur,
August 19, 2013

Source: NY Times, “Labor and Business Reach Deal on Immigration Issue,” Ashley Parker and Steven Greenhouse,
March 30, 2013

Influential House Republicans

While many House Republicans are not publically supporting immigration reform—only 21 have expressed support so far—Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois has told members of the media that he knows of 40 to 50 House Republicans who will ultimately vote for the bill but who are waiting until a later date to draw attention to themselves over this issue.

Some Republican members of the House wield more power than others when it comes to immigration. Speaker of the House John Boehner from Ohio makes the decisions regarding which bills the House will vote on. Boehner has previously said that he would not bring a bill to vote unless a majority of House Republicans would vote for the bill. Raul Labrador from Idaho is one of the House’s few Latino Congresspeople, which puts him in a prime position to bear some influence on the issue of immigration. Labrador pulled out of bipartisan efforts to craft House immigration legislation early on, however, and has done little since to move the issue forward. Bob Goodlatte from Virginia is chair of the House Judiciary Committee, a group that has jurisdiction over immigration laws in the United States. Goodlatte has articulated support for a piecemeal approach to legislation, but has been tight-lipped regarding whether or not he supports a pathway to citizenship.

Mario Diaz-Balart from Florida has been the most consistent and longstanding supporter of a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants among House Republicans. Diaz-Balart is a member of the Gang of 7, the House’s bipartisan group responsible for crafting a piece of legislation that may be the beginnings of an immigration bill on which the House ultimately votes. Michael McCaul from Texas heads up the House Homeland Security Committee and is the most knowledgeable member of the House with regards to border security. He holds a great deal of credibility within the Republican Party on border issues, and has not commented one way or the other on a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

A couple of House Republicans have declared their support for a pathway to citizenship since the beginning of the August recess, while others have raised eyebrows with their comments about the habits and cultures of undocumented immigrants. In addition to Representative Steve King—who has twice made comments regarding immigration that Republican leaders have been forced to denounce—Representative Tom McClintock from California said during a town meeting Tuesday evening that illegal immigration causes multiculturalism, which undermines America. Immigrants who want to become American citizens should shed their own cultures and become “the American race,” says McClintock. According to McClintock, modern immigrants differ from past immigrants in that today’s immigrants are failing to assimilate into American culture, choosing instead to form individual pockets of different cultures. McClintock said, “The motto of this country is e pluribus unum, and one of its meanings is ‘from many nations, one nation, the American nation.’” So far, the August recess has caused representatives on both sides of immigration to be more vocal than they had been—and both sides hope the majority of Republican opinions will ultimately tip in their favor.

Source: Hispolitica, “House Democrat Claims Republicans Will Support Immigration Reform Bill,” Javier Manjarres,
August 9, 2013

Source: Causa, “The Top 10 House GOP Members That Matter on Immigration Reform,

Source: ThinkProgress, “GOP Congressman Argues Against Multiculturalism: ‘There’s Only One Race Here, It’s The American Race’,” Scott Keys,
August 14, 2013

Republicans Push for Immigration Reform

Prominent Republican lawmakers from both sides of the immigration reform issue are pulling out all the stops in trying to convince House Republicans to join their cause. Republican Senator and Gang of Eight member Marco Rubio has been warning Republicans that if they fail to reform immigration, President Obama may take the issue into his own hands and issue an executive order granting legal status to the 11 million immigrants affected by the potential bill. “I believe that this president tempted, will be tempted, if nothing happens in Congress, to issue an executive order as he did for the Dream Act kids a year ago, where he basically legalizes 11 million people by the sign of a pen,” said Rubio in a recent interview. The president has denied that he would do this, telling Univision, “I’m not a king.” But Rubio may be hoping that his denial will not curb the fear among House Republicans, whom he is likely hoping will be concerned enough about President Obama’s potential abuse of power to pass an immigration bill that at least has their own reforms built into it.

Republican Representative Steve King, on the other hand, who has argued that the current possibilities for immigration reform equate to amnesty (and who famously commented recently that children born to undocumented parents are mostly working as “drug mules”) has been on the road during the August recess trying to sway Republicans in his direction. At an event called “Stop Amnesty Now,” King called the Senate’s immigration bill the “always is, always was and always will be Amnesty Act.” Added King, “A year ago, almost everybody in my conference agreed with me,” King said. “There’s been no spell cast over me.” King went on to say that immigration reform will bring more violence to the country. “If you bring people from a violent civilization into a less-violent civilization, you’re going to have more violence right? It’s like pouring hot water into cold water, does it raise the temperature or not?”

King’s audience included about 50-60 people and was among three hours of messages at the event. Senator Rubio, meanwhile, spent 90 seconds discussing immigration reform in the midst of a 35-minute speech to a crowd of 300 at a Rotary Club in Florida. In his speech, Rubio emphasized the aspect of the Senate bill that would give preference to highly skilled immigrants: “If you’ve got the next great idea, if you’re the next Albert Einstein, you may struggle to be able to stay. This makes no sense and it has to be fixed.”

Roy Beck, executive director of an anti-amnesty organization in Arlington, Virginia, told Business Week that pro-pathway-to-citizenship folks have “a heavier lift of changing minds” than those who oppose immigration reform do; the latter, he said, need only to “hold the line.” In a recent interview, Beck commented, “So far I’m not seeing the pro-amnesty bandwagon catching fire. It just goes to show that what these guys hear once they’re back in their districts is very different from what the Republican consultant class in Washington has been telling them.” Whether Beck is right remains to be seen.

Source: Huffington Post, “Marco Rubio Warns About Obama Risk Without Immigration Reform,” Elise Foley,
August 13, 2013

Source: Politico, “Steve King hits the road on immigration,” Seung Min Kim,
August 12, 2013

Source: Huffington Post, “Steve King: ‘There’s Been No Spell Cast Over Me’ On Immigration Reform,” Ashley Alman,
August 13, 2013

Source: Business Week “Anti-Immigration Rally Spurs Push to Block Changing U.S. Law (1),” Julie Bykowicz,
August 13, 2013

Progress Made During August Recess

So far, the August recess has been kind to immigration reform efforts. Two Republican members of the House of Representatives (Aaron Schock of Illinois and Daniel Webster of Florida) have voiced support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants—an issue that has been a sticking point for Republican members of the House.

Webster announced his support for a pathway to citizenship after several pro-immigration interest groups in Florida targeted their activism at him. Webster remarked that his support is contingent upon the border being secured at a rate of 90%. He became the 20th House Republican to support full citizenship—meaning that if Speaker of the House John Boehner called for a vote in the House, the Senate immigration bill would likely have 220 votes, which is two more than it would need to pass. Webster said, “We’re a nation of immigrants, there’s no question about that. But we’re also a nation of laws. I think we have to honor both of those.”

A day later, Representative Aaron Schock voiced his support for the pathway to citizenship in response to a question at a town hall meeting: “I think that at some point, when the border is secured and people pay their taxes and they haven’t committed any violations of laws…they have been here for a provisionary period, then they can apply for citizenship.” Schock’s support is also contingent upon securing the border, and he expects immigrants applying for citizenship to “go to the back of the line.” Schock has not laid out his expectations for securing the border, but he has made it clear that his support for full citizenship rests upon his expectations being met. The representative wants immigration reform to pass piecemeal, rather than in one comprehensive bill like the Senate passed in June. “A step-by-step approach allows us to take each issue on its face and come up with the best solution for border security, the best solution for employment verification, the best solution for guest worker programs, high skilled workers, low-skilled Ag jobs,” said Schock.

The Illinois People’s Action group is pleased with Schock’s progress on the issue. “We had been hearing from him that he’s open to the idea but this is the first time we have heard a real affirmative voice emerge,” said Jennifer Carrillo, IPA’s immigrant justice organizer.

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer has expressed support for the House Republicans’ piecemeal approach, despite its departure from the Senate’s comprehensive one. “We would much prefer a big comprehensive bill, but any way that the House can get there is OK by us,” Schumer told CNN. “I actually am optimistic that we will get this done…The initial reaction was the House isn’t going to take up any bill. That would have been very bad — no bill. Now, they’re doing it in pieces. A couple of their pieces are very similar to our bill.”

Source: ABC News, “Republicans May Be Changing Minds on Immigration Reform,” Serena Marshall,
August 8, 2013

Source: America’s Voice, “Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) Latest House Republican to Come Out for Citizenship,” Van Le,
August 5, 2013

Source: America’s Voice, “21: Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) Latest to Come Out in Favor of Citizenship; Activists Thank Pete King for Support,” Van Le,
August 5, 2013

Source: Orlando Sentinel “Webster endorses immigration reform — with preconditions,” Mark Matthews,
August 4, 2013

Source: USA Today, “Group urges Schock to push for immigration reform,” Chad Weber,
August 6, 2013

Source: UPI.com, “Two House Republicans announce support for pathway to citizenship,
August 8, 2013

August Recess

Congress has embarked upon its traditional August recess, which means that immigration reform efforts are functionally stalled until members of Congress return to Washington, D.C. in September. Interest groups will continue to lobby the representatives during the recess, however. The break could either push House Republicans toward or away from immigration reform efforts—predictions vary based on the source—but most observers speculate that the recess will impact the direction of immigration reform in some way.

“I think the month of August is a very important month,” said Senator John McCain Tuesday at an AFL-CIO immigration event. He says members of the House will be “consulting with, meeting with various groups they represent ranging from organized labor to the [Chamber of Commerce], a lot of it depending on the makeup of their district.” McCain will spend August touring his home state of Arizona, hoping to build support for immigration reform among his constituents.

Democratic supporters of immigration reform have planned a “Summer of Citizenship,” a number of rallies and vigils in Western states to advocate for reform. Congressman Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat from Illinois, said at a recent press conference, “In August, Republicans will be hearing from their constituents, from business owners, from law enforcement, from clergy, from their voters and their campaign contributors that sensible immigration reform absolutely has to pass this year. If they go to a beach resort, I want the hotel owner and the maid who puts a chocolate on their pillow to talk to them about immigration reform.” Republican immigration reform supporters are hard at work as well; the American Action Network will spend $250,000 in August garnering support for the bill.

When members of Congress left Capitol Hill at the beginning of the August recess, they were met by protesters who supported immigration reform. Emily Gelbaum of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement remarked that the protest marked “day one of six weeks of real escalation and real hard pushing to make sure that they [lawmakers] have citizenship on their mind throughout the August recess.” Gelbaum continued, “Then when they get back, they give us a vote on citizenship.”

Groups hoping to sway the House in favor of comprehensive reform are focusing their energies this month largely on districts with large Hispanic populations. Mi Familia Vota is one of those groups. Mi Familia Vota plans to spend August canvassing specific districts via telephone and door-to-door. The group is asking businesses and individuals to publically petition their representatives to include a pathway to citizenship in the House bill(s). When a business owner comes out in support of immigration reform, Mi Familia Vota will photograph him or her with graphs displaying the necessity for immigration reform, and the photos are then distributed on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, says the August recess could be what makes or breaks the issue with House Republicans. “The most credible information I’ve heard is that they want to find out in August what people think,” Noorani said. “If they come out of August saying, ‘That was a wash,’ we win.”

Source: MSNBC, “August recess to test immigration reform,” Benjy Sarlin,
July 31, 2013

Source: TRNS, “Immigrant Advocates Give Lawmakers Something To Think About Over Recess,” Oralia Valencia,
August 1, 2013

The Steve King Controversy

Iowa Republican Representative Steve King is making news with his recent comments about the children of Hispanic immigrants. Said King, “For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.” King went on to say on the House floor Thursday afternoon, “In Mexico they are recruiting kids to be drug smugglers. Every night some come across the border, smuggling drugs across the border…Anybody who reads the papers should know, especially those who live on the border, should know that there are many, many coming across the border who are smuggling drugs into the United States.”

House speaker John Boehner has denounced King’s comments as being not representative of party values, and has said that there is no room for “hateful or ignorant comments from elected officials” and that the comments were “deeply offensive and wrong.” In his press conference earlier this week, Boehner singled King out by name and note that King’s recent comments have made the immigration reform process more difficult. “But,” said Boehner, “I’m going to continue to work with members who want to get to a solution, as opposed to those who want to do nothing.”

King himself doesn’t understand the controversy. In an interview with Breitbart News yesterday, he said, “I don’t yet know of anyone who has raised a logical argument against my statement…What I said is objective, it’s true, and it cannot be logically challenged. If we can’t deal with reality when we’re writing legislation that sets the destiny of the United States forever, then this nation will eventually fail.”

The American Action Network, a conservative group based in Washington, D.C. that favors immigration reform, took the bold step of polling Representative King’s home district in Iowa to determine his own constituents’ outlooks on the issue. The results were stunning; King’s district supports comprehensive immigration reform by more than 2-to-1. 70 percent of Republicans in the district support a path to legal status, and 51 percent, a pathway to citizenship. A full 79 percent of voters in King’s district would support a path to citizenship if the border were more secured, and 69 percent indicated that they favored “comprehensive” immigration reform. And 74 percent of voters consider immigration to be a “very important issue.” Put simply, an overwhelming majority of voters in Steve King’s home district strongly support the Senate bill, or a bill very like the Senate bill.

Boehner wasn’t alone in criticizing King. House Majority leader Eric Cantor remarked, “I strongly disagree with his characterization of the children of immigrants and find the comments inexcusable.” Yet unshaken in his confidence regarding his choice of words, King responded to the criticism without a trace of regret: “You should go ask [Boehner and Cantor] if they actually watched the tape. Ask them if they actually read the text. That would illuminate a lot. There’s a lot of people around here that have opinions that aren’t founded in fact.”

Source: Politico, “Poll: Steve King’s district supports pathway to ctitizenship,” Seung Min Kim,
July 24, 2013

Source: Politico, “John Boehner blasts Steve King again,” Jake Sherman and Ginger Gibson,
July 25, 2013

Source: LA Times, “Boehner denounces Steve King’s ‘ignorant’ comments on immigration,” Michael A. Memoli,
July 25, 2013

Comprehensive Reform in the House

Much has been said about the refusal of the House of Representatives to vote on the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill. The Senate bill is unpopular among conservatives, and everyone knows it. Speculation abounds that immigration reform was dead on arrival in the House, that the piecemeal approach to the House is just a conservative tactic to delay the vote and eventually drop the issue altogether.

Dan Conston, however, has a different perspective. Mr. Conston is a spokesperson for the American Action Network, a conservative lobby that favors immigration reform. Representatives in the House haven’t bothered battling the Senate bill’s negative reputation, he says; rather, they are using the bill’s unpopularity to build up support for the House bill. Says Conston, “Because the Senate went first, and it’s been defined negatively in the eyes of primary voters, the House has the opportunity to chart a different path and establish a different level of credibility. They need to take a step-by-step, methodical approach.”

Republicans’ noted aversion to the Senate bill, according to Conston “doesn’t make reform any less likely — I think it makes it more likely. Their opportunity (and challenge) is to craft solutions that have concrete, measurable metrics and ones that meaningfully remove discretion from the Obama administration enforcing laws. Our voters don’t believe they will enforce the laws.”

This means that senatorial support of immigration reform is both helpful and toxic to House immigration efforts—helpful, because the House can pit its plan against the Senate’s and assume that it will come away looking better to conservatives, and toxic, because the more the Senate tries to involve itself in House doings, the less the House will be able to pitch its plan as being different. And the Senate is not sitting back quietly.

Senators held a meeting on Monday with business groups supportive of immigration reform efforts. The meeting was intended to be a brainstorming session regarding how supporters of immigration reform could put pressure on the House to pass a comprehensive reform bill, but the idea proved unpopular in the meeting, and a follow up meeting has been canceled (due to scheduling issues, they say). Insiders report that many of those at Monday’s meeting were cognizant of how unpopular the Senate is with the House right now, and they realize that any Senate involvement with the House bill will be unwelcome and counterproductive.

More GOP primary voters support a comprehensive approach to immigration reform than disapprove of it, but not by much; a recent poll puts Republican primary voter support at 51%. This number goes down by two percent when a pathway to citizenship is brought into the picture.

Paul Ryan, a Republican Representative from Wisconsin, has what some consider to be a Senate-esque vision of immigration reform—he would prefer to pass individual immigration reform bills that, taken together, would form the component parts of a major immigration overhaul. Furthermore, Ryan would like each individual bill to be brought to the House floor at the same time. Comprehensive immigration reform is in a tricky position in the House of Representatives, but it is not dead yet.

Source: Washington Post, “Immigration dance,“Jennifer Ruben,
July 23, 2013

Source: Huffington Post, “Senators Cancel Immigration Meeting Aimed At Rallying Momentum For Legislation,“Reuters,
July 22, 2013

Modern Immigration Reform in the United States

Due in large part to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, there was a public outcry at the time to reform immigration policy in the United States. The country was then employing a national-origins quota system, according to which each nation was afforded a percentage of immigrants. Previous U.S. census statistics formed the basis of a country’s permitted number of immigrants. In response to the changing times, Congress passed the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which eliminated the national quota system and gave preferential treatment highly-skilled workers, political refugees, and relatives of United States citizens. The clause regarding political refugees had a monumental impact on immigration; while over half of all immigrants were Northern European in the 1950s, refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba, and Eastern Europe flooded into the United States in the ensuing years. By the 1990s, only 16% of U.S. immigrants were from Northern Europe.

Illegal immigration formed the background of the immigration debate of the 1980s and 1990s. By then, nearly 1/3 of legal U.S. immigrants came from Mexico, and untold numbers of immigrants were entering the country illegally. In 1986, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in an attempt to stem the tide of illegal immigration.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act enacted four main changes to U.S. immigration policy: it made it a crime for employers to knowingly hire undocumented immigrants, it required employers to confirm to the government the legal status of their employees, it provided amnesty to certain seasonal undocumented agricultural workers, and it offered legal status to undocumented immigrants who had entered the country before January 1, 1982—as long as they paid back taxes and a fine and admitted their guilt. Under these policies, around 3 million undocumented immigrants were granted amnesty.
In 1990, the Immigration Act expanded the number of immigrants allowed to enter the country from around 300,000 annually to 700,000 and increased the number of immigrants entering the U.S. from underrepresented countries. The early 1990s brought a recession that increased anti-immigration sentiment, however, and in 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, a law that greatly increased the severity of consequences for an undocumented immigrant who had been arrested. Previously, only serious offenses could result in immediate deportation for an undocumented immigrant, but under the new law, offenses as minor as shoplifting could trigger the same response.

In 2012, President Obama greatly reduced the amount of time it would take for undocumented immigrants to reapply for legal immigration once they have been deported from the country for illegal immigration followed by a crime (be it minor or major). The president eliminated the ban altogether, creating a major change in U.S. immigration policy. Prior to this, and according to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, deported immigrants faced a 3-10-year ban on petitioning the United States for re-entry.

Projections show that the United States is likely to have a nonwhite majority by the year 2042—an increase of over 35% since 1965.

Source: History.com, “U.S. Immigration Since 1965,

Source: Center for Immigration Studies, “Three Decades of Mass Immigration: The Legacy of the 1965 Immigration Act,