How to Bring Back Immigration Reform

Vulnerable Republican moderates should force their leaders’ hand
Illustration by Bloomberg View

What are the prospects that the U.S. House of Representatives will pass useful immigration legislation? House leaders are under increasing pressure from business groups and immigration activists to act. Internal political pressures may mount as well. After the government shutdown fiasco, some Republican representatives are newly vulnerable. Their reelection could be further threatened if Speaker John Boehner continues catering to the far right by refusing to bring immigration legislation to the floor.

Polls show broad public support for reform, including a path to citizenship for the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. The Senate in June passed such a bill 68-32—a thumping bipartisan victory.

Several bills are working their way through the House. The House Homeland Security Committee’s bipartisan border security bill, for example, would require the Department of Homeland Security to develop a strategy to control the border within two years, rather than throwing money and manpower at the problem willy-nilly, as the Senate bill does.

House Democrats have produced their own legislation, which essentially takes the Senate bill and replaces its bloated border security provisions with the House Homeland Security Committee legislation. This is a ploy to force Boehner’s hand. If Republican inertia continues, GOP moderates will be able to issue a threat to him: Bring a comprehensive immigration bill to the floor, or we’ll sign on to the Democrats’ bill.

House leaders could bundle and pass legislation containing a handful of Republican provisions—for example, to strengthen border control, to establish an E-Verify system for authenticating worker identities, and to increase the number of visas for high-skilled workers. That could then go to conference with the Senate bill, and a single package would emerge for both chambers to vote on.

This path might enrage immigration opponents in the Republican conference. But it may be the only way to get serious reform to the House floor for a vote.


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