Immigration Reform 2013: The Deadline For Change Is August

A timeline may not necessarily seem like the most important part of the immigration debate, especially when you consider all of the substantive issues that still need to be figured out, but it is.

The length of time it takes for a bill to find its way through the chambers of Congress is essential to the life of that bill. If there is one thing that the gun debate taught us it’s that momentum matters. To pretend that public sentiment of feelings about a particular issue don’t matter would be foolhardy. If the immigration debate lingers on for too long people will just loose interest in it, and without that interest Congress won’t feel any compulsion to act. 

So much of what is driving immigration reform right now is the walloping Republicans received in the November general election. It’s also something that Democrats promised to tackle during the second Obama administration. There’s a political calculation to all of this and if the vote doesn’t happen soon, it may never happen.

Apart from the threat of waining political will is the fact that 1,400 immigrants are deported every day. At any time there are 300 immigrants held in solitary confinement in the U.S. The New York Times reports that after 15 days of this sort of treatment, the risk for severe mental harm increases substantially. Detainees are not being held on criminal charges but rather civil charges. Coming into the country is a violation of civil , not criminal, code. What does that have to do with timeline? Immigration reform will likely have immediate consequences for those currently being held and those in the pipeline for deportation.

Here is what a possible timeline for immigration reform might look like and some barriers likely to get in the way:

Week of May 6: Senate committee readies vote on comprehensive immigration reform bill from the Gang of 8. They will need 60 votes to pass the upper chamber. On April 25, John McCain (R-Ariz.) told the Christian Science Monitor that there was reason to believe there could be a majority of support from both parties.  

End of May-July: The real question regarding immigration reform isn’t really whether or not it will pass the Senate, it is what the House is likely to do with the bill once they get it. In late April, the House Judiciary Committee said it had plans to overhaul immigration via a piecemeal approach. Saying that the House has been reluctant to consider comprehensive immigration reform, would be the understatement of the year. The Senate wants to gain 60 votes, not only so that the bill is filibuster-proof but so that the House feels greater pressure to vote on the bill. The Senate bill would have to go through the House Judiciary Committee first, that means that House Republicans are going to have to deal with words like “pathway to citizenship,” something they have been reticent to do in the past. Don’t overlook the importance of that, some House Republicans can’t even bring themselves to say the word citizenship. That’s going to be a major barrier in passing this bill. 

August: Why bring up August? That’s when Congress will go on its summer recess. It’s darn near impossible to see Congress taking this up after the recess as some House Republicans face 2014 midterm reelection challenges. Prior to recess Congress also plans on tackling tax and entitlement reform. As the Congressional calendar fills up, the time to debate reform wanes. 

Here’s what you can expect, delays and procrastination by both sides on substantive parts of the bill. House Republicans simply do not want to pass comprehensive reform, the leaders of the Gang of 8 say that there just isn’t any other way to get it done. A go-slow approach is a way for Republicans in the House to avoid attaching their names to parts of immigration reform they don't want to be associated with. It's going to be extremely difficult to talk some of them, especially the ones facing election, to agree to comprehensive reform.

As the months tick away the political expedience element will loose some its luster. The cost of the bill is an uncomfortable hurdle for many Republicans who also don’t want to be seen as adding to the nations already enormous debt. There are many who are opposed to the bill outside of Congress, the Heritage Foundation released its report on May 6 on the possible cost of the bill. It won’t matter to some House Republicans that the Heritage report is flawed, as cited by the CATO Institute (hardly a stalwart of liberal ideology). As the opposition starts to look at the provisions of the bill, expect the obstacles to mount and political courage to wain. 

Simply put, if a deal isn’t hammered out before August, you can expect immigration reform to go the way of gun control