Immigration Reform 2013: House Republicans Threaten to Quit


The eight-person bipartisan immigration reform group in the House is looking shaky, with Republican members John Carter of Texas and Raul Labrador of Idaho threatening to quit if an agreement is not reached by Thursday evening. The group has apparently reached a crippling impasse, with "top aides and lawmakers are unsure if they’ll ever come to the agreement they've sought for four years." Both Carter and Labrador indicated that the time for negotiations was over, despite Carter saying that Republicans and Democrats in the group have already agreed on "95%" of a bill to reform immigration.

If they carry out their threats and quit the group it would represent a significant setback for immigration reform efforts, given that Labrador said that it is time to move ahead with a Republican plan, which he characterized as "conservative immigration reform." A more conservative House immigration bill would be harder to reconcile with a bipartisan Senate bill, especially given some of the arguments put forward by House Republicans against immigration reform.

The biggest stumbling block is "over a so-called trigger that would eliminate the legalization process for 11 million undocumented immigrants if an employment verification program — called E-Verify — is not in place in five years." Republicans are insisting on including this measure in the bill, while most Democrats consider it to be too harsh. There is also a divide within the group over the issue of health care for undocumented immigrants, with Republicans keen to make newly documented immigrants provide their own health insurance, while Democrats are more keen on the language in the Senate bill which says that immigrants would not be eligible for health care subsidies.

Carter said that Thursday night, "as far as I'm concerned, is the last night I'm gonna meet." Labrador too said, "I think it’s time for us to move ahead with a Republican plan if nothing happens" on Thursday. Democrats in the group, however, still seem confident of an outcome, with Luis Gutierrez, the representative from Illinois, saying that he was "very optimistic" about Thursday's meeting and expected it to be "fruitful." 

Given that both Republicans and Democrats in the House group concur that they are most of the way to agreement on a bipartisan immigration reform bill, and that the Senate is still considering its own bill, the threat to quit the negotiating process if an agreement is not reached on Thursday seems premature. Carter and Labrador's deadline of Thursday night also seems somewhat arbitrary, and a walkout is likely to just make immigration reform efforts even harder.