Is the prospect of immigration reform legislation in Congress alive and kicking, or is it in its death throes?
Recently one of the key Republicans in the House, Virginia’s Bob Goodlatte, who chairs the influential House Judiciary Committee, said he would not support “a special pathway to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants. The citizenship pathway for the nation’s 11 million is a crucial component of reform proposals, and is supported by bipartisan groups as well as Dreamers and immigration reform advocates.
“So stop pretending this bill is going to pass – the bill is dead or near dying,” said Josh Marshall in Talking Points Memo.
On Friday, immigration activists who participated in a conference call with reporters had a different opinion on where things stand.
“The conventional wisdom before the summer started was that the Tea Party and anti-immigrant groups were going to make sure immigration reform died an August death. Quite the contrary, our movement is on fire,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice.
Speaking to NBC Latino, a congressional aide familiar with immigration issues says the August congressional recess is going well for the pro-immigration side. House members, especially Republicans, are hearing from business and evangelical leaders, as women’s groups, and support for immigration reform polls at 60 to 70 percent in Republican districts.
“You have all these things, and the fact there is a majority in the House and Senate who support it – including enough members in the GOP. It’s hard to imagine Republicans are going to decide, when there is a popular piece of legislation, not to let it happen,” says the aide.
Immigration activists point to the fact that Republican legislators like Utah’s Jason Chaffetz, “a hardcore Republican” according to Sharry – recently came out saying he would support a path to citizenship.
But the question is how, as well as when. On the “how,” there has been much said lately about whether the House Judiciary Committee will vote for piecemeal immigration-related bills sponsored by Republican legislators. Here, the issue is that Democrats and more moderate Republicans will not support some stringent proposals like the SAFE Act, which gives states and localities more power to enforce federal enforcement laws. “I just don’t think they have the votes to go across the 218 threshold if they’re taking the direction they’re taking in the committee,” says the aide.
So the next step would be whether the House would back a bill such as the one from the bipartisan Group of 7, which includes Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Illinois Democrat Rep. Luis Gutierrez. The consensus is the votes are there, with 195 Democrats and between 25 and 30 Republicans in favor. There is enough support - if and only if House Speaker John Boehner does not insist he needs to go by the Hastert Rule, which means a bill has to have the support of the majority of Republicans in order to be put up for a vote.
“That’s an excuse, not a rule, and he’s disregarded it three times already this year,” stated Sharry in an “open letter” responding to TPM’s Josh Marshall’s assertions that the immigration bill is dead. “No, even Boehner won’t sacrifice his party’s future for the sake of a rule that’s not a rule.”
The ball is in Boehner’s court, according to those closely watching the immigration negotiations.
The next question is when. Time is limited when Congress gets back, and issues like the spending bill will be in the front burner. However, advocates are not throwing in the towel.
“Paul Ryan has been saying in town hall meetings it will be in the fall, and I would like to believe him,” says the aide.
Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director of the Wisconsin-based Voces de la Frontera, said on Friday that their 12-city statewide tour, “License to Dream,” will end on September 7th in front of Congressman Ryan’s district office.
“We want to communicate the urgency of not just effectively communicating the need for legalization with a pathway to citizenship, but the need for him to lead the House to get it done,” said Neumann-Ortiz.