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Immigration reform: Small window is closing fast

November 7, 2013 -  By

A small window that’s closing fast is how Craig Regelbrugge, the American Nursery & Landscape Association’s (ANLA) vice president of government relations and research, describes the prospects for getting anything done on immigration reform in this session of Congress.

Since last June, S. 744 has been cooling its heels in the Republican-controlled House. This comprehensive immigration bill embodies most of what the Green Industry has been seeking for at least the past 15 years: border security, workable guest-worker programs and a path to legal status for the 12 million undocumented workers already in the country.

Negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators, the so-called “Gang of Eight,” led by Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Democrat Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), S. 744 passed the Senate with a solid majority of 68-32.

Unfortunately, the Senate bill was not received warmly by the majority House Republican conference. House Speaker John Boehner said at the time that the House strategy would be to do smaller pieces of legislation, rather one comprehensive bill, if the House would do anything at all.

So far, five smaller bills have been introduced and passed through House committees dealing with various pieces of immigration reform. However, none has yet been scheduled for a vote by the full House.

In September, the battle over the federal budget, the debt limit and the eventual shutdown of the federal government pushed all else aside.

Deadline nearing
The big question coming out of the shutdown is how would the pounding taken by the Republican Party in polling after the shutdown affect its willingness to take on an issue as controversial to its base as immigration reform?

There’s some evidence that the political landscape in the House may be a bit more fluid since the government shutdown. Small cracks are appearing in Republican solidarity. Three house Republicans have now signed on as co-sponsors to a Democratic House bill that deals with immigration reform comprehensively.

Regelbrugge sees November as the window. After November the postponed federal budget negotiations, the debt ceiling and the potential for another government shutdown will again occupy Congress’ attention. So this small window will close quickly.

And with 2014 being a midterm election year, there is little chance of anything as controversial as immigration reform getting through the Congressional gristmill.

So, the pro-immigration reform forces are in an all-out push to convince House Republicans to move immigration reform legislation now. Last week, hundreds of business and agriculture leaders, faith leaders and law enforcement officials, the so-called “Business, Bible and Badges” coalition, flew into Washington to urge Congressional action.

Likewise, business and agriculture organizations have been scheduling meetings with House members in their district offices to bring home the message that action on immigration reform is essential to their economic futures. Their message to Republican members of the House is to convince Speaker Boehner to move forward on almost any immigration reform legislation. Once a bill or bills pass the House a conference committee between the House and Senate can work out their differences and put a bipartisan bill on the floor of each house for an up or down vote.

Now is the time to act.  If workable guest-worker programs and a stable workforce are important to your company, please call, write or visit your member of Congress and ask them to act now on immigration reform. ANLA’s Action Center is one place you can go to do so easily.

It’s been six years since the last serious attempt at immigration reform failed without getting a vote in either house of Congress. If this window closes, who knows when the next window will open?

Related:Immigration passes Senate: What’s next?

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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