Immigration Reform 2013: Why Syria Means It's the Wrong Time


This year the House of Representatives has been no stranger to vacation days. In 2013 the House majority has only scheduled 126 days of legislative work, with the grand total shrinking exponentially over the next few months. In fact, the representatives entrusted with legislating and debating issues such as immigration reform, military action in Syria, and the now-annual debt ceiling showdown will only be in session for a grand total of 39 days over the next few months. With time-sensitive issues like the debt ceiling and military action in Syria looming, one has to ask, what does this mean for any type of immigration reform? 

Put simply, immigration reform is hanging on by a very fine and easily broken thread. While Senate Gang of Eight members like John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have been outwardly optimistic in their assessment of immigration reform's chances in the House, the fact is that with the addition of military intervention in Syria, it may be too much to overcome. For its part the House has introduced legislation on border security and visa programs. However, there has been almost no consensus reached as to an inclusion of a pathway to citizenship. This is largely due to the piecemeal approach taken by House leadership, which has severely limited the ability to reach across the aisle — an ability that the Senate had to harness to pass its comprehensive reform bill.

Instead, immigration reform has been on the front steps of the House for more than two months now, with no meaningful action in the foreseeable future. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has even stated his refusal to bring any immigration reform bill to the floor without a Republican majority supporting it, something that's known as the Hastert Rule. Boehner's use of the Hastert Rule is not surprising as he is heading the most polarized and unproductive House of Representatives in history.

As if Congress’s ability to legislate has not been stifled enough, this massive time crunch before the end of the year has recently been compounded by President Obama’s announcement that pending congressional approval, he intends to take strategic military action against Syria. With a vigorous debate on Syria guaranteed in the House, and talks necessary to achieve any sort of agreement on the upcoming debt-ceiling crisis, there may not be enough time or energy left to compromise on an incredibly divisive issue such as immigration reform.

Instead, immigration reform may unfortunately languish on the steps of the House until next year, the all-important midterm election year. While this does not spell the absolute end, many representatives will be returning to their campaign trails, forgoing the compromise necessary to pass provisions crucial to the reform bill such as the pathway to citizenship. Instead, the House majority will spend the year playing party politics, focusing on re-election instead of legislating.

The path of recent immigration reform has been a beautiful sight to see. I have been one of many to lobby on Capitol Hill on its behalf, and I was one of many who watched as a polarized Senate passed a comprehensive reform bill with a supermajority. At this point, I am one of many watching, waiting, and hoping that the House finds a way to take up immigration reform before it takes yet another recess. The policy window only stays open for so long, and the people of this nation deserve a smart and effective reform to our immigration system.