Government affairs: Delayed reform

July 7, 2014 -  By
Photo: Kim Newburg/

Photo: Kim Newburg/

In my June blog, I expressed some hope a window had opened a crack to move immigration reform forward in Congress:

  • House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) were sending positive signals the House would move bills;
  • The Obama administration had suspended efforts to seek administrative solutions in lieu of congressional inaction;
  • Pro-immigration forces were marshaling an all-out late June grassroots lobbying effort in Washington.

But in mid-June, the unexpected defeat of Cantor in his congressional primary dashed that hope.

David Brat, an upstart Tea Party challenger, ran a campaign against Cantor focused almost solely on painting Cantor as favoring “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants.

There were other reasons for Cantor’s defeat in addition to immigration reform, including his failure to take care of business in his district. But the message taken away by conservative House Republicans was support for any immigration reform measure would be fodder for more conservative challengers in their districts. Conservative House Republicans moved away from budding reform efforts at warp speed.

Within days of Cantor’s June 10 defeat, the consensus among pro-immigration reform groups was clear. Cantor’s defeat had slammed shut the immigration reform window. The huge lobbying “fly-in” of pro-immigration reform forces set for late June was canceled.

So where do we go from here?

Looking into the future, those closest to immigration reform efforts think the next best chance for reform may not come before 2017.

Clearly, 2014 is out as we move to the midterm congressional elections. Some think there may be a small chance for something to happen in early 2015, after the new Congress is seated. I doubt that.

The new Congress is likely to be more conservative and more anti-immigration reform, with Republicans expected to pick up seats in both houses, given where races currently stand. The Republicans have a better than even chance to take control of the Senate, giving them complete control over immigration reform legislation, if any, that they would send to the president. It’s not likely they would send the president an immigration reform measure he would sign.

Which takes us to 2017. By then we would have a new president, likely a Democrat, with both Houses still controlled by Republicans. Presidential politics, for Republicans, is the driving reason for them to take any meaningful approach to immigration reform.

Whether immigration reform will happen in 2017 depends largely on how serious Republicans are about recapturing the White House. Immigration reform is a huge issue for Hispanic voters, and they tend to view Democrats as more supportive of their interests.

Without the prospect of meaningful immigration reform for at least the next three years, what should the Green Industry do?

First, we must keep talking to our Republican friends in Congress about the need for reform. If we simply go away for three years, they will forget about the labor needs of our industry and what it means to the economy in their districts. We must prepare them with the facts so when the time comes, they are ready to get behind reform efforts.

Second, as an industry, we must broaden our recruitment efforts for employees and show employees have a chance for a good career in the Green Industry.

Third, prepare your business for potential inspections by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The Obama administration has stepped up enforcement of immigration laws at the same time they have been pushing for reform. ICE has targeted the Green Industry as one with a high likelihood of employing undocumented workers. Be sure your employee I-9 forms are up-to-date and your personnel files are in order.

Overall, our industry must find other solutions to meet our labor needs. Holding out for immigration reform no longer seems like a rational choice.


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

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