Immigration Reform 2013: House GOP is Turning Around, But It's Still a No-Go

A police officer putting handcuffs on a protester during the Immigration Reform 2013 protest

A third House Republican came out Wednesday in favor of the comprehensive immigration reform bill drafted by Democrats in the House. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) claimed Tuesday night that there is enough bipartisan support in the House to pass comprehensive reform if House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) brought it to a vote. But for many reasons, this renewed excitement in immigration reform will not be leading to any substantial legislation anytime soon. Though Boehner has recently expressed interest in passing reform this year, he is the head of a divided Republican caucus, many of whom do not have enough Latinos in their district to worry about re-election if they don’t support immigration reform. And with just 16 scheduled days left in this year’s legislative session and another looming budget showdown, meaningful reform seems increasing unlikely before the end of the year.

Still, the sudden renewed interest in the past couple days comes directly after a firestorm of some 600 conservative lobbyists from political, religious, business, and tech groups around the country descended on Washington, D.C. Tuesday to meet with 150 Republican members of Congress, urging them to pass immigration reform this year before time runs out. Although this type of support for immigration reform from conservatives is unprecedented, the support was not necessarily for a comprehensive bill.

"The strategy is to get them to support conservative immigration reform, even on a piecemeal basis," noted Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union. The piecemeal approach is one now advocated by influential Senator Marco Rubio, who on Saturday shied away from supporting any sort of comprehensive reform. Yet Democrats have vowed to withdraw support for any piecemeal effort that does not include a pathway to citizenship, which is the exact aspect of reform that Republicans are hoping to avoid by breaking up reform into smaller pieces of legislation. Piecemeal bills would also be much more difficult to reconcile with the comprehensive bill passed by the Senate this summer.

Still, House Republicans will not support immigration reform because they continue to be singularly focused on derailing Obamacare and want to avoid the negative optics of caving to a legislative agenda that Democrats support. If House Republicans continue to think of immigration reform as a partisan issue, then they will be in no hurry to vote for it since it is perceived as a favor to Democrats. But if immigration reform is seen as a benefit the entire country would enjoy – Republicans and Democrats alike – then, maybe it might have a chance of passing. Until that paradigm shift occurs, it seems most likely that immigration reform will have to wait. The farther along it gets into 2014, the lower the probability Congress will want to touch anything too politically sensitive, since it’s an election year. But with so many families and communities continuing to struggle every day from a broken immigration system, one has to wonder how much longer Republicans will continue to play politics with such an extremely important issue.