Immigration Reform 2013: Senate Progress Could Mean Nothing If House Blocks Gang Of 8 Bill


The ongoing fight for comprehensive immigration reform is not without its detractors, as has been documented on this site and by just about every imaginable news outlet. It is this group, those against the Senate version of immigration reform that was recently passed from the Judiciary Committee to the whole Senate, that could potentially derail the whole thing as it stands. It is becoming clearer that the window for comprehensive reform is closing.

Immigration reform is facing a tough climb, and one that is littered with opposing forces and viewpoints in the different chambers of Congress.

On the one hand, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 to send most of the “Gang of Eight” Senators' recommended immigration-reform plan to the full Senate for a vote. This is after the committee went through a large number of proposed amendments and mark-ups, with 48 Republican-backed amendments being passed in a refreshing show of bi-partisanship. While there will be some layoff between now and when the bill is debated and voted on in the full Senate, there is at least reason for optimism among reform supporters.

That would appear to be where the positivity ends, however. First, despite the apparent bi-partisan nature of the bill passed on to the Senate, there is a very tenuous nature to the whole thing. For example, in the Judiciary Committee, Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) had to withdraw his proposed amendment that would grant homosexual couples the same rights as straight married couples to sponsor a foreign partner for immigration. Republicans objected to the amendment and threatened to back away from the whole piece of legislation, and Democrats refused to act on the proposal to preserve the fragile peace. The committee’s bi-partisanship was buoyed by careful planning and cooperation among those interested in securing safe passage of the legislation to the full Senate.

This shaky bi-partisanship will once more come into question in the full Senate as the bill is debated and amended. It is certainly conceivable, if unlikely, that the bill could be killed then and there, leaving this apparent progress all for naught.

The more challenging hurdle that threatens to sink immigration is the House of Representatives. The House has proven to be far more unpredictable and prone to stalemate as greater partisan politics come into play. Already, some Republican members of the House have spoken out against the Senate piece of legislation, decrying it as amnesty legislation. Despite some feelings with the GOP that movement on immigration reform would help the party’s standing with Latino voters, it seems unlikely that this is a sufficient reason for movement from the general party stance in the House.

In the meantime, the House’s own gang of eight is working to get its own version of legislation together, but is facing a more difficult road. Beyond the issue of the pathway to citizenship, there is disagreement between Democrats and Republicans on this committee about health coverage for those on a pathway. Negotiations and deliberation are ongoing between the parties to determine a resolution for this latest snag.

In the end, the window for immigration reform is closing, and may even be shut with only the facade of hope for meaningful reform remaining. Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) was quoted by Reuters as saying, “I think the House will pass immigration reform … I doubt it will include a path to citizenship.” These conflicting attitudes between the House and Senate, as well as the parties within each chamber, may very well result in the quashing of the best chance at comprehensive reform in years.