Audrey Bowler ’16 Inside Politics
Immigration reform has loomed large on the American public policy stage in recent months; however, progress has been stalled in the House of Representatives as the Republican Party struggles to incorporate the concept of immigration policy into their party platform without compromising key ideals. Sixteen months after losing the White House, the Republican Party has strong motivation to court Latino voters by moving forward on immigration reform as midterm elections draw closer. The Republican Party has approved spending $10 million to ramp up Hispanic field operations in key states; however, internal opposition to immigration legislation has damaged the party’s chances with the nation’s fastest-growing voting bloc. A split within the House Republican majority has only served to make the issue seemingly more complex. While Speaker Boehner has endorsed comprehensive immigration reform as a key issue that could result in a growth in public support for the GOP, other members of Congress are not as enthusiastic.
Despite his acknowledgement that immigration reform could be a turning point for the Republican Party, Boehner has pulled back each time he has been presented with a chance to move forward. Last summer, after 68 senators approved a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants a chance to earn permanent legal residency in ten years and citizenship three years later, Boehner declared he could not hold a vote on that plan.
Currently, committees in the House have approved five immigration bills, but none have been brought to the floor. Introducing reform bills could be a risky move for the Speaker. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) said this week that an immigration deal remains unlikely in a sharply divided Congress. Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-ID) suggested that Boehner could lose his speakership if he pursues a bill in a midterm election year. While Boehner insists that immigration reform is simply on hold, he recently stated that his immigration caucus would not move forward until President Obama works to earn the trust of House Republicans: “There’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws,” Boehner said during a news conference in late February, “And it’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”
Despite these claims, Republicans continue to make progress on legislative objectives in committee. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) have drafted legislative language on bills dealing with young illegal immigrants and visas for low-skilled foreign workers, and House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) are working on legislation focused on border security and the legalization of undocumented immigrants.
House Democrats have problems with the immigration bill passed by the Senate as well. Their version appears virtually identical to the Senate’s, albeit with scaled-down border security provisions. In response to the lack of action on the part of House Republicans, Democrats plan to make use of a tactic known as a discharge position on Wednesday March 26th. A discharge position would require a majority of lawmakers’ signatures to force immigration legislation onto the House floor for a vote. A total of 199 Democratic House members – the full amount – and an additional 19 Republicans would need to sign the potential petition; a seemingly impossible task given the current partisan atmosphere of the House. A discharge petition could affect the internal politics of the GOP as well; Republicans willing to sign the petition would be publicly rebuking Boehner and other party leaders. Whether or not a discharge petition is successful, Democrats hope to prompt some sort of action. As Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said, “Ultimately, a discharge petition may not be the tool that causes the Republican leadership to let the majority vote, but it increases the pressure, which is what we need.”