The latest on prospects for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Hanes & Bartels Nov. 27, 2013

Like many of you, we have been closely watching this year as Congress grapples with immigration reform. After the Senate passed its version of comprehensive reform this spring, many immigrant families awaiting change in our outmoded laws rejoiced, but we warned our clients and potential clients that such celebrations were premature. The Senate, controlled by Democrats, was always going to be the easy part. The Republican party controls the House of Representatives, and that party remains badly split on immigration issues. Certain fringe elements of the party will simply always oppose any measures that will help immigrants, but most mainstream Republicans are willing to consider reasonable improvements to our immigration laws if they believe that their constituents back home will stand with them.

We are active members of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association (AILA), and from the beginning of consideration by the House, AILA’s advocacy experts have made clear that enough Republican Representatives support the Senate’s relatively reasonable approach that if Speaker John Boehner would permit a simple up-or-down vote on the Senate’s bill, it would pass today in the House. Boehner and the House Republican leadership, however, are holding out for majority support within their own party. They have also stated their preference for numerous small bills rather than a single comprehensive reform plan. At the moment, this has created a stalemate. No one who has carefully observed Congress for the past few years will find that surprising.

However, there is still hope for reform. Douglas Stump, the current President of AILA and himself an Oklahoma Republican, indicated in a speech here in Colorado last month that next spring’s primaries might be key. Several moderate Republican Representatives indicated privately to him and other AILA advocates that they support the Senate’s generally reasonable reforms, but they fear challenges from far-right Tea Party candidates in Republican primaries. Once they survive those primaries, most of these Republican incumbents will face little opposition winning general elections in our era’s gerrymandered, single-party-dominated Congressional districts. Therefore, once primary season ends, enough of these Republican incumbents may feel secure enough in their jobs to support reasonable comprehensive immigration reform such as that passed by the Senate.