The Republican-led U.S. House will delay consideration of immigration bills until this fall, diminishing the chances that President Barack Obama will sign his top domestic priority into law by year’s end.
House Republicans’ decision to act in a piecemeal fashion, instead of on one comprehensive immigration bill, points to a drawn-out process that may spill into the 2014 midterm election season and jeopardize final negotiations.
“It’s a long and winding road till we actually get to a final product,” Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, said in an interview yesterday.
Democrats say that if Congress doesn’t agree on legislation by the end of the year, an immigration-law revision may fall by the wayside.
“It’s unlikely that it’s going to happen in an election year,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California told reporters in Washington yesterday.
The House is starting to assemble its strategy for a rewrite of immigration laws almost six months after the Democratic-led Senate began negotiations and two weeks after the Senate passed its broad plan on June 27.
The Senate bill, S. 744, combines a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. with a $46 billion border-security plan. While 14 Senate Republicans joined Democrats in passing the bill, many House Republicans oppose the citizenship path.
“We are not going to do the Senate bill,” House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters yesterday. “I have said this since May the 23rd.”
After a private two-hour meeting on July 10, House Republicans reaffirmed their plan to handle immigration legislation through individual bills, acting first to strengthen border security before addressing other issues.
“Securing our borders and having the ability to enforce our immigration laws are the first big steps in this process,” Boehner told reporters.
Action in July is “100 percent unlikely,” Representative John Fleming, a Louisiana Republican, said after the meeting.
Boehner wouldn’t say whether he thought the House could pass legislation including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Democrats say such a provision must be part of any immigration plan.
Virginia Republicans Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, and Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, plan to draft a proposal that would provide legal status for those brought illegally into the U.S. by their parents.
“These children came here through no fault of their own and many of them know no other home” than the U.S., Goodlatte said in a statement that confirmed he is working on a bill with Cantor.
The Senate’s immigration plan includes a provision similar to the Dream Act, which provides a faster path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and who attended college or served in the military.
Obama has said he wants to sign immigration legislation by the end of this year. The issue is his highest domestic priority thus far in his second term, after he won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in November. Republicans, in turn, want to boost their party’s appeal with Hispanics after 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney promoted self-deportation as the answer to illegal immigration.
If Republicans don’t act on immigration, they do so “at their own peril because they haven’t learned the lesson of Nov. 6,” Representative Jose Serrano, a New York Democrat, said in an interview.
Border security and a path to citizenship constitute “the obstacle” for House and Senate negotiators to figure out, said Representative Tom Rooney, a Florida Republican.
“There’s going to be the fight, and whether or not you’re actually going to have immigration reform will lie therein,” Rooney said.
Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, said Republicans will be persuaded to act only if they are pressed by “grassroots” supporters in their districts.
“They have to be hearing from their local business communities; they have to be hearing from different faith groups,” Van Hollen said in an interview. “Nothing we say is going to motivate them to action.”
Representative Trey Gowdy, a leading Republican on immigration, voiced optimism that the House would pass a plan, be ready to negotiate with the Senate by year-end, and set the stage for enacting legislation during this session of Congress, which continues through 2014.
“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think the current system is broken,” Gowdy, chairman of the House Judiciary panel’s immigration subcommittee, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “So if you think the current system is broken, how can you then fashion an argument that we should do nothing?”
According to a Quinnipiac University poll released today 54 percent of voters favor eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the U.S., while 12 percent want to allow them to stay without becoming citizens and 28 percent said they should be deported.
Because of gridlock, however, American voters say by a margin of 69 percent to 27 percent that Republicans and Democrats in Congress won’t be able to work together to pass immigration reform, according to the survey conducted from June 28 to July 8 among 2,014 registered voters.
The president met yesterday at the White House with two authors of the bipartisan Senate bill, Arizona Republican John McCain and New York Democrat Charles Schumer. Afterward, both senators said they were encouraged following the July 10 House Republican meeting.
“A large percentage of the House realized that doing nothing was not an option,” Schumer said. “Immigration has a strong future this year in Washington.”
McCain said the senators’ message to “colleagues in the House is ‘we are ready to negotiate.’”