What exactly is happening with comprehensive immigration reform? The Senate passed legislation earlier this year, but the issue has stalled in the House as lawmakers scramble to get several issues off the table before adjourning for the year. The debate over the debt ceiling, the focus on the crisis in Syria, and the nearly three-week government shutdown meant a further delay, but immigration advocates say they aren’t giving up.
“While Congress is in session, there will always be the possibility of moving immigration reform forward, as long as there is a political will to do it, especially from those who are control the congressional calendar. It is in their hands,” said Maribel Hastings,
senior advisor at the pro-immigration group America’s Voice. “We are well aware that time is of the essence if we want anything to happen this year and the key is the internal struggle within the Republican party between those who don’t want it and those who understand the political implications for their party of not doing anything about immigration reform.”
Community activists have been fanning out all across the country, lobbying lawmakers they consider to be amenable to holding a vote in the House. Michigan congressman Fred Upton was one such lawmaker who was a target of protests and demonstrations by pro-immigration reform groups, and he recently said he would push for it. “I will be part of a bipartisan effort to fix the problem, because it has to be fixed,” Upton said at a recent Rotary Club gathering in his congressional district. “To me, doing nothing is not acceptable.” Upton said that there are many more Republican supporters of immigration reform than what is popularly believed, adding that at least half of the GOPers in the House support it: “It’s too important to have a partisan thrust here. I’d like to think we can find the center on this issue and move forward. I hope it doesn’t spill over into next year.”
The focus is indeed on the Republican side, with legislators weighing in and saying immigration reform is not a dead issue for them. California Rep. David Valadao is one of several GOPers who have signed on to a comprehensive immigration reform bill recently introduced by House Democrats.”By supporting HR 15, I am strengthening my message: addressing immigration reform in the House cannot wait,” he said in a statement. “I am serious about making real progress and will remain committed to doing whatever it takes to repair our broken immigration system.”
House Republican leaders have said that a majority of the chamber’s Republicans would have to support the bill before it would be considered for a vote. HR 15, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” was introduced in early October by Florida Democrat Joe García, and is the only bill in the House that takes up the issue of immigration in a comprehensive manner, similar to the version passed by the Senate earlier this year.
The White House says it’s definitely not giving up, and the President Obama has spoken about the issue and met with business and community leaders to push legislators to take action.
“Immigration reform will reduce the deficit by $850 billion over the first 20 years,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said during a recent press briefing. “It’s good for the economy and the right thing to do. We hope the House will follow the Senate and take action.”
Meanwhile, while many are trying to keep the issue alive as a comprehensive package before the congressional recess, Chicago Democrat Luis Gutiérrez---one of immigration reform’s most ardent supporters in Congress---says it could be taken up little by little. Not the ideal way, he says, but it is an option rather than see the entire legislation die on the vine. He would support it as long as, in the end, a comprehensive bill moves forward.
“There are many parts, many interacting parts. If you come over to my house and I gave you coffee at 9 and eggs at 10, you would tell me you should have given it to me all at once, but in the end it’s a full menu,” he told Chicago Public Radio. “It’s all interwoven and we can get it done. And then we can go to conference and resolve the differences between the House and the Senate bills. It can be done.”
And if not?
“If it doesn’t happen this year there indeed will be repercussions that will be felt at the ballot box, and our nation’s immigrants will lose,” added Maribel Hastings from America’s Voice.