Immigration Reform 2013: So Close, Yet So Far

The ongoing and protracted battle for comprehensive immigration reform seems poised to make its way through the Senate. On Sunday, Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) predicted the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill will reach the floor of the Senate on June 10, and hopes that it will reach 70 votes on the floor.

The obvious implication of Schumer’s comments is that he expects the bill to receive widespread bipartisan support in the Senate. With the Senate passing the bill on a bipartisan vote, surely that means the House will follow suit right? Probably not, and the outlook for immigration reform in the House doesn’t look very good.

Already members of the House are speaking out against the Senate bill, and preparing for what is seemingly an inevitable outcome. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) was quoted on Sunday saying, "That Senate bill is not going to move in the House."

The expectation at this time is for the House to propose its own immigration reform bill, which is almost certainly going to fall well short of the provisions in the Senate legislation. The most likely omission looks to be the pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, which is a centerpiece for the Senate bill, but is widely panned by House Republicans.

At the center of this standoff is one of the great underlying issues for the Republican Party. Since Election Day in 2012, Republicans have been dealing with the best ways to gain support in the Latino community, a segment of the population that has largely supported Democrats. Some strategists have seen this immigration reform as an opportunity for the GOP to gain some favor in this ever more important voting bloc. However, a great number of the Republicans in the House come from conservative districts where something like a path to citizenship, or the commonly used buzzword “amnesty,” would not be taken kindly.

This is the cause of the internal differences among Republican House members. The desire to gain favor among Latino voters is no doubt strong, but at the same time, many members doubt the impact that immigration reform would have on the Latino segment of the voting population.

As a result, the more likely result looks to be one of two options in the House. First is the potential for a bipartisan, comprehensive agreement among the House’s own Gang of Eight. Already, concerns abound that such legislation, even it survived its Committee assignment, would likely see a number of poison pill and other amendments that would alter the bill too far beyond reconciliation. The other alternative is a series of smaller, less wide-reaching pieces of legislation. This is something that could still happen, but would face resistance among Democratic members who would view it as a stalling tactic to avoid taking up the Senate bill.

In the end, comprehensive immigration reform, despite all of the positive signs from the Senate, looks to be doomed to failure in the House. Republican members have too many reasons to resist legislation that would be viewed very negatively in their home districts for the pathway to citizenship, even in spite of the possible positive boost in support among Latinos. On the other hand, Democratic members of the House and members of the bipartisan bloc in the Senate look likely to resist any attempts on the part of the House to make major alterations to the Senate’s proposal.

Immigration reform may be best summarized by the old saying: “So close, yet so far.”