Immigration Reform 2013: How the GOP Can Recover From the Government Shutdown

On October 5, coordinated marches, rallies, and vigils for immigration reform took place in 160 cities nationwide. While these events received moderate media attention, the larger gathering on the National Mall in Washington on October 8, in part due to the controversy it generated, obtained significant media coverage. Thousands attended the event, sponsored by the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, CASA de Maryland, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, and several other organizations. Two hundred demonstrators were arrested, including eight Democratic members of the House. Many participants in these rallies concede that they are unlikely to push immigration to the forefront of the House agenda days before a possible debt default; activists have certainly been losing the momentum they enjoyed throughout the summer months. They may, however, have a greater indirect effect than they anticipate. 

They have acquired a significant amount of political support. Thus, Nancy Pelosi was among those high-profile politicians who attended the rally held in Washington, and many Democratic representatives have been making efforts to get a comprehensive immigration reform bill, similar to the one approved by the Senate, to a vote in the House.

Most recently, Democrats introduced another comprehensive immigration bill similar to the one approved by the Senate. The bill has the votes to pass, as Obama himself has highlighted, and the main struggle is exerting enough political pressure to get it voted upon. John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, has repeatedly stated that he would not allow a bill on the floor that doesn’t have the support of a majority of his caucus. This is where the grassroots effort has the most potential.

Republicans are losing the battle for public response to of the government shutdown. Disapproval of the Republican Party has increased from 63% to 70% since the shutdown, while Obama’s approval rating has increased from 41% to 45%. Furthermore, the GOP is suffering in battleground congressional districts. This may force Republicans to address immigration before the year’s end to disassociate themselves with congressional gridlock and inaction and to better their overall chances in the 2014 election.

Also, as the GOP’s own analysis of the 2012 electoral results conceded, the Party’s reputation among minorities is in severe need of repairs if the base is to continue to grow in the foreseeable future. Passing an immigration bill, even a watered down version of the already diluted one passed in the Senate, could be crucial for the GOP’s long-term and short-term electoral strategy. If activists can maintain the emphasis on the difficult human consequences of increased deportations and obstacles to citizenship, for undocumented and documented immigrants alike, they may garner enough public sympathy to coerce the House into at least considering the bill.