The Senate’s immigration-reform bill this week moves into its most critical stretch, with a major border-security amendment under consideration and a final vote on the landmark legislation expected before senators leave Washington for their Fourth of July break.
“It is the crucial week — the crucial week,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told The Arizona Republic on Friday.
A compromise negotiated last week by Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., has reinvigorated supporters of the “Gang of Eight” bill, a comprehensive immigration-system overhaul that would include a pathway to citizenship for most of the estimated 11 million immigrants now in the country illegally.
Corker and Hoeven’s proposal would dramatically boost spending on the U.S.-Mexican border, aiming to win over GOP critics who argued that the original bill did not go far enough with regard to border security.
McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., two members of the bipartisan group who wrote the original bill, hope the new amendment will allow the Senate to pass the legislation with at least 70 votes. They believe that strong bipartisan Senate support will put more pressure on the GOP-run House of Representatives to act on immigration reform. A final Senate vote on the bill is expected Thursday.
However, even should the Immigration Bill pass the Senate by a strong majority, time is against the House in passing the bill. After senators get the bill done, they have a weeklong July 4 break. And then they get to wait for colleagues on the other side of the Capitol who will have four weeks – four weeks – to deliberate before Congress takes off for an even lengthier recess in August. Once Washington meets autumn, immigration falls off the priority track thanks to the reemergence of fiscal crisis.
The House Judiciary Committee has yet to tackle the most difficult issues on immigration—what to do with the current undocumented population and how to handle the future flow of low-skilled immigrants. There are no signs that the committee is working on any such bills. We don’t know who would sponsor them or, on the off chance that someone actually puts pen to paper, that such measures could even get out of committee.
What about the House floor? The best hope for the immigration legislation to continue moving forward would be an “immigration week” in the House in July, in which members vote on several different bills to set up a far more conservative proposal than the solution posed in the Senate.
Under this theoretical “immigration week,” the House would vote on a severe enforcement measure to give local police the authority to apprehend, investigate, and detain people suspected of residing in the country illegally. Members would vote to mandate electronic verification of employees.
Only one of the smaller immigration bills that the Judiciary Committee will have ready for the floor in early July, on high-skill work visas, has the slightest chance of getting help from Democrats. Yet even the moderate Democrats are lining up behind the Senate immigration bill instead of the House approach on high-skilled immigration. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., who leads the immigration task force for the New Democrats, told National Journal that he does not want a high-tech bill to be a “distraction” from the comprehensive legislation being embraced by the Senate.
Somewhere in there, a bipartisan group of seven House members could release their own comprehensive proposal on immigration reform. But none of the members of this “gang” can tell you what happens to it next. They have no commitment from Goodlatte to push it through the Judiciary Committee, and all they know from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is that Goodlatte calls the shots.
Proponents of the Senate’s immigration package are hoping that a strong vote this week among senators will push the more reluctant House Republicans to act, if only to get the emotional issue out of the way. “We know there’s going to be hard-line opponents. We know there’s a number of people, [Rep.] Paul Ryan, [D-Wis.], and others, who are in favor of this and will be pitching it to their colleagues.… That’s going to be the group that’s interesting to watch,” said America’s Voice Executive Director Frank Sharry.
But Sharry acknowledged the most problematic hurdle to passing an immigration overhaul—support from a majority of House Republicans—still eludes proponents. “The House leadership will try to muster 120 votes for a path to citizenship. I find it hard to think they will get there,” he said.
If House Republicans keep deliberating at their current pace, the bill will die from sheer talk. After so much work being by the Senate to put together comprehensive immigration reform, to think it will not come to pass because of the Republican-controlled is hard to believe and yet realistic given the lack of movement in the House for any comprehensive immigration reform. After the Senate votes this week, the focus will fall on House on whether any reform will come about, something everyone will be watching very closely.