Immigration Reform Groups Resume Fight
October 22, 2013 - Politico -Seung Min Kim
With the brutal fiscal fight now in Capitol Hill’s rearview mirror, immigration reform advocates from across the spectrum are ramping up the pressure on lawmakers to pass a far-reaching overhaul this year.
The more aggressive wing of the immigration reform community is launching a “week of escalation” that will target the top three House GOP leaders and roughly two dozen other Republican lawmakers. Their goal is a vote on immigration reform this year. And the Evangelical Immigration Table is releasing a letter Monday signed by top faith leaders — a missive that comes amid a nationwide prayer blitz for reform.
There’s a glimmer of hope that the House will pass immigration reform this year, but after the shutdown’s end, it’s faint at best. Although the Senate passed comprehensive reform in June, most House Republicans remain highly skeptical of such sweeping overhauls, and there’s no indication that chamber will move its own package of reform bills anytime soon.
Nonetheless, advocates are resuming the fight.
“The dynamics on this are very different than what we saw on the fiscal issue,” said Ali Noorani, who leads the pro-reform National Immigration Forum. “We’re seeing this groundswell of support for reform from the right; … we don’t see that groundswell from both sides of the spectrum on any other issue.”
In a new letter, the Evangelical Immigration Table urges the House to continue working on immigration and take up reform that includes a pathway to legalization or citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. The letter, provided to POLITICO, includes signers from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, as well as Sojourners, and is mostly complimentary of the House, although it criticizes an interior enforcement immigration bill that passed the Judiciary Committee in June.
“The work the House has done on immigration reform thus far is commendable,” reads the letter from the Evangelical Immigration Table, which has convened more than 40 major prayer gatherings and roughly 400 smaller ones scattered throughout 40 states.
Meanwhile, the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, an umbrella organization for an array of immigration rights groups nationwide, wants to intensify the pressure on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as well as 26 Republicans who represent areas with a significant population of Latino and Asian voters. The so-called escalation events will focus on pushing the lawmakers for a vote on comprehensive immigration reform through visits to their Washington and district offices.
“You should expect to see more escalations and more … civil acts of disobedience,” said Kica Matos, a spokeswoman for the coalition, who added that activities will also be planned for November. Groups in the Fair Immigration Reform Movement have held several events at which reform advocates have gotten themselves arrested to call attention to the issue.
Meanwhile, Noorani’s Forum is involved in organizing an event Oct. 28-29 during which more than 300 conservative backers of immigration reform will press lawmakers on the need to take up a comprehensive overhaul. They come from more than 50 congressional districts, and among the major GOP-friendly groups involved in the effort are the Partnership for a New American Economy, a pro-reform coalition headed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and FWD.us, the advocacy organization founded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, according to Alex Katz, a spokesman for Bloomberg’s group.
There is still some under-the-radar activity on the issue in the GOP-led House.
A swath of Republicans is still quietly crafting bills that would each overhaul a different section of the immigration system. Five bills have passed key committees, and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia has indicated that his panel is working on four more immigration measures.
One would be a legalization measure for young undocumented immigrants being spearheaded by Cantor. Another is a bill providing temporary visas for immigrant workers by Republican Reps. Ted Poe of Texas and Raul Labrador of Idaho. A committee aide said Goodlatte currently has no timetable to bring up the other immigration bills.
There is also a bill that would create a biometric exit system sponsored by Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) intended to reduce visa overstays, but that measure would go through the Homeland Security Committee.
The official word from House Republican leadership is that the chamber still has immigration reform on its agenda, with Boehner spokesman Michael Steel saying the speaker “remains committed to a step-by-step process to fix our broken immigration system.”
But Republicans privately and publicly say their already testy relations with President Barack Obama have been poisoned by the rancorous fiscal battle, which ended with a major capitulation from congressional Republicans. Rep. Raul Labrador, a conservative backer of immigration reform, encapsulated that thinking at a recent forum when he said it would be “crazy” for House Republicans to negotiate with Obama after the grueling past few weeks.
“The president’s attitude and actions over the past few weeks have certainly made getting anything done on immigration considerably harder,” a senior congressional Republican aide said in an email.
Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, one of the House’s biggest GOP proponents of a rewrite of U.S. immigration laws, acknowledged that the shutdown and debt limit battle “clearly … doesn’t make it easier” for reform. Still, he dismissed the influence that Obama may hold in the House on immigration.
“The president has not been a factor, has never been a factor and as far as our efforts in the House, won’t be a factor,” Diaz-Balart said. “I don’t mean to sound disrespectful, but he needs to do what he’s been doing for the last five years, which is just nothing.”
Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy for the pro-reform U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, noted that Boehner emerged from the fiscal fight with widespread praise from his conservative flank, which may provide him with some room to maneuver within his Republican Conference.
“It might give him some leverage,” Appleby said, who noted that his group has “only gotten positive messages” from House GOP leaders on immigration. “I think at this point, I think the stakes are higher because the American public is playing closer attention to how Congress conducts its business.”
Democrats have made it clear that enacting immigration reform is next on their agenda after the bruising shutdown and debt ceiling battles.
Obama placed it high on his list of priorities in a speech on the day the government reopened. House Democrats have released a comprehensive immigration bill designed to pressure their GOP counterparts, but that has not attracted Republican support and will not go anywhere. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he wants to refocus on the issue.
“I think we need to get this done,” Reid said on Univision’s “Al Punto” on Sunday. “And I will never agree to anything that doesn’t have a pathway to citizenship.”
Aside from embracing a piece-by-piece process advocated by Goodlatte, the House Republican leadership hasn’t committed to a timeline or strategy for bringing immigration bills to the floor. How much Democratic support the bills would need is unclear. A bloc of House conservatives has pledged to vote against any immigration measure, even if they support the policy, to prevent the chamber from entering into a formal conference committee with the Senate and its Gang of Eight bill.
Immigration advocates were heartened somewhat by the final agreement that lifted the nation’s debt limit and ended the government shutdown, which did not gain majority support from Republicans and had to be carried by Democratic votes. They believed that it showed a willingness on Boehner’s part to allow critical legislation to pass by breaking the so-called Hastert rule, which requires majority backing from the party in control of the House.
But that may be more of an apples-to-oranges comparison, as some note.
“At some point, you have to fund government; at some point, you have to deal with the debt,” said NumbersUSA President Roy Beck, who supports reducing immigration. “There’s absolutely no similarity between those and the immigration bill.”
The other complicating factor is time.
Diaz-Balart said that is his chief concern. The debt ceiling and shutdown agreement lays out a series of short-term deadlines, such as a mid-January expiration of government funding and a debt limit that is raised until Feb. 7. The Treasury Department’s extraordinary measures could buy more time on the latter, but it’s unclear how much. But that timeline means this fall is the likeliest window Congress has to work on immigration before lawmakers will again be consumed by fiscal issues.
“There’s a very clear window now for the next month or two,” said Jeremy Robbins, director of the Partnership for a New American Economy. “The key is to make the case for the political imperative.”
If anybody thinks that this legislation is going to sail right through Congress, they must also believe in the tooth fairy. The Obama administration, specifically Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and the President, steadfastly refused to negotiate with Congress on the debt ceiling and "Obamacare" and now they expect Congress to turn the other cheek and allow immigration reform to be passed without any opposition by the same members of Congress who were told there would be no negotiation the other two issues. As a staunch, long standing proponent of immigration reform I truly hope that I am wrong but I fear that the Obama administration's intransigent attitude has raised the ire of many in Congress. Unfortunately, the immigration issue could suffer as a result.
Jack Meehan, National President Emeritus
Ancient Order of Hibernians in America