Immigration Reform 2013: Senate Bill is in For a Bumpy Ride in the House


The newly-passed Senate immigration reform bill will be brought up for a vote in the House, pass with overwhelming Democratic support and enough GOP defectors for the President to sign it, and America will move on from its most recent cycle of weaving an immigrant sub-class into its social fabric, right?


The bill that cleared the Senate last Thursday by a vote of 68-32 now moves on to the House of Representatives to be taken up by the body of Congress that has dethroned the Senate as the place where bills go to die. The Senate version was opposed by some influential lawmakers, and is already meeting stiff resistance from House Republicans.

14 Republican Senators voted yes on the bill, however it is unlikely that Boehner and Pelosi can get that many conservatives in the House to do the same. If they could, and assuming all Democrats vote yes, they would need just three more votes for a bill to pass.

Immigration reform is not dead, but I wouldn't bet on it passing any time soon.

With the run up to midterm elections approaching, House Republicans now face a dilemma: do they attempt to change the bill, write their own from scratch, or do they pass the Senate version now?

House Speaker John Boehner has said that the bill won't be brought to the floor for a vote without a majority of House Republicans supporting it, obeying a practice known as the "Hastert rule." Boehner and his caucus will also write their own bill, and likely end up creating a version too conservative to pass in the Senate. For Republicans to expand their block of minority supporters, the House version must be high on compromise and low on ideological purity.

If House Republicans do not make it obvious that they are working on a passable bill, and come across to voters as against meaningful reform, they risk alienating Latinos — a group which voted for Obama by 70% in the last election. Eventual passage of the bill would then become politically worthless to Republicans. Under this scenario the GOP would lose big in the midterms anyways, so they might as well block the bill's passage now.

The central component here is amnesty, an issue over which Republicans walk a continuous tightrope. Immigration reform that allows a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants will alienate many conservative voters. This makes any GOP lawmaker who backs amnesty as a part of immigration reform susceptible to primary challengers. Some Republicans might have to sacrifice their seats in order to strengthen the party. Somewhere, an ideological loss will have to be traded for an electoral victory.

Just be patient, America. It's going to take a while.