Immigration Reform 2013: Why the House GOP Refuses to Vote On It


It has been nearly four months since the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill with a filibuster-proof majority, and the only thing standing between an immigration reform bill and President Obama's desk is the House of Representatives. Despite this, the House Republican leadership has no plans to vote for any immigration reform legislation for the rest of the year, meaning if and when immigration reform legislation is voted on in the House, it will be in the middle of a contentious election year.

It's not that the House Republican leadership doesn't want immigration reform — they do. In fact, everyone who matters wants immigration reform. The business community, evangelical groups, the Republican establishment, and other conservative groups want immigration reform. Labor and progressive groups want immigration reform. Congressional Democrats and President Obama want immigration reform.  And in the Senate bill they're given something they can all find common ground on — something that addresses most of the current flaws in the immigration system and satisfies the criterion essential to any functional immigration system by making it easier to immigrate legally than illegally.

So what's taking the House so long to act? In short, the votes aren't there... yet. Or rather, the votes to satisfy the Hastert Rule aren't there.

The Senate immigration bill could be brought to a floor vote in the House right now and it would likely pass with universal support from Democrats and more than enough Republicans to form a majority (much like how the bill that raised the debt ceiling and re-opened the government was passed). Then, if no language is changed from the Senate bill, it could go straight to President Obama's desk and it would be law.

It won't happen that way for a couple reasons. One, the House wants its own version of a bill, be it piecemeal or comprehensive, because after all, the House are its own duly elected legislative body and not a rubber stamp for the Senate. That's understandable. The other reason is the Hastert Rule, which means Boehner wants not only a majority of the House, but a majority of his caucus to vote for the bill in order to maintain credibility as speaker. Essentially, Boehner is operating as if he's the speaker of the Republican Caucus instead of speaker of the House of Representatives — a mindset that prolonged the unnecessary government shutdown. Ridiculous as that may seem, the real question is, why don't the majority of congressional Republicans support comprehensive immigration reform when the majority of the power players in their party and the majority of the American people do?

To understand this, you have to break down the House Republican Caucus into three factions: the establishment, the Tea Party wing, and those who are more afraid of the Tea Party wing than they are of the establishment wing.

The establishment is for immigration reform. The Tea Party wing for the most part is not. The majority of those in the third group probably are, but are afraid of losing their seats via a Tea Party primary challenge. That is why immigration reform in the House will likely not happen until next summer after most of the congressional primaries, once many in the third group have secured their nominations and are set to coast to reelection. It's also worth noting that while the Senate immigration bill was passed with bipartisan support, only one in three Republican senators actually voted for it, which makes trying to get a majority of the majority in the House seem only more far-fetched.

Though contrary to the general consensus that House Republicans would invite primary challengers if they vote for immigration reform and are seen as compromising with Obama, there is quite a bit of evidence that Republican primary voters actually support immigration reform. While they oppose blanket amnesty, the majority of Republican primary voters polled support a pathway to citizenship that comes with conditions attached and increased border security — which is exactly what the Senate immigration bill is.

Immigration reform offers Congress the opportunity to pass a major piece of legislation that is not an eleventh-hour solution a self-inflicted crisis — something that hasn't been done in several years. It offers Congress the opportunity to do something that is needed and good for our country. More importantly, it offers Congress the opportunity to restore our faith in our country's legislative branch of government by proving they still can do that.