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Government Affairs: Opportunity for immigration reform

June 2, 2014 -  By

Just when possibility for Congressional action this year on immigration reform seemed doomed, a small breeze came in through the window.

Players on the Republican and Democratic sides of the issue seem to agree there is narrow window of opportunity for immigration reform in June and July this summer.

That window has been created by the conclusion of the spring primary elections and the fall general election campaigns that start in earnest in September.

To recap, last June the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill, S. 744, which included increased border security, redesigned guest worker programs and created a potential pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented workers now in the U.S. That bill was sent to the House, where it was dead on arrival.

Republican Speaker John Boehner said he wants the House to tackle immigration reform but in a series of smaller bills, perhaps as many as seven, rather than one comprehensive bill. For his part, President Barack Obama said he is not opposed to that strategy. So far, though, the House has not brought any immigration measures to the floor for a vote.

The issue of immigration reform is so toxic to the conservative Republican Party base, no Republican member of Congress wanted to touch it before their primary for fear of giving more conservative challengers campaign fodder.

Now that the primaries are over, House Republicans may feel they have a bit more room to discuss immigration reform without fear of a primary challenge from the more conservative elements of their party.

In frustration over the lack of action by the House on immigration reform issues, in early May, Obama ordered Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to review steps that the administration could take without Congressional approval to ease deportations of undocumented workers and other reform efforts. The administration already has used executive authority to halt deportations of so-called “Dreamers,” children who were brought into the country by their undocumented parents.

Predictably, Republican reaction to the President’s announcement to use executive power to slow deportations was swift and negative.

Sensing that an opportunity for reform, though ever so slight, might be slipping away from them, pro-immigration reform groups—who were initially pressing the President to take administrative action—reversed their position and asked the President in a letter to back off plans for administrative reform action. Last week, the President agreed and ordered Johnson to suspend work on the review.

Whether this suspension pushed the immigration reform window open a bit more remains to be seen. Other issues such as Benghazi, the Veterans Affairs hospital scandals and the Affordable Care Act seem to be of greater interest to rank-and-file Republican members of Congress. And it is an election year.

A glimmer of hope is that Boehner seems genuinely interested is getting something done on immigration reform this session. He has regularly spoken in favor of immigration reform, but each time has been forced to walk back his statements after a barrage of criticism from the right within his party.

The latest episode was when the Speaker was caught on tape in late April in front of the Middletown (Ohio) Rotary Club in his home district complaining about his caucus whining about having to take a vote on immigration reform (click here for article). He quickly recanted his remarks.

But now, with the primaries behind him, Boehner may feel bolder about opening the window a bit more to push immigration reform forward within his caucus.

Photo: Karen Arnold/PublicDomainPictures.net

About the Author:

Gregg Robertson, Landscape Management's government relations blogger, is a government relations consultant for the Pennsylvania Landscape & Nursery Association (PLNA) and president of Conewago Ventures. From 2002 until May 2013 he served as president of PLNA. Reach him at gregg.robertson@conewagoventures.com.

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