Date: Oct 01, 2013
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Immigration reform is still plagued by inaction by Congress

In politics, it is almost always about timing, and the potential crisis in Syria along with congressional focus on funding for the government and raising the debt ceiling pushed the immigration reform debate off the front burner when Congress returned from its August recess.

As California Rep. Zoe Lofgren so aptly described elsewhere on this issue, the Syria discussion “has taken the air out of the room.”

Going into the August recess, there was much discussion about what individual representatives would hear from their home town constituents at what has become a ubiquitous recess event: the Town Hall meeting.  Western Growers Director of Federal Government Affairs Ken Barbic said in 2006 the August recess proved fatal to immigration reform as anti-immigration folks mobilized and scared many members of Congress into inaction.  In 2009, the August recess almost delivered a similar blow to the Affordable Care Act, though that survived because of the Democrats’ control of Congress.

“So going into the recess this year, immigration reform proponents were concerned about what the recess would bring,” he said.  “The big question was if supporters of reform could mobilize effectively and whether the opponents would cause a backlash.”

Barbic said that no such backlash was felt.  For the most part, the opponents did not mobilize or were outmaneuvered by proponents.  Western Growers and other members of the agricultural coalition got involved in member meetings and several Town Hall meetings as did the ad hoc Bibles, Badges & Business coalition.  That group of religious leaders, law enforcement officials and influencers from the business community who support immigration reform for a diversity of reasons came out in strong support of the legislation and effectively won the August recess.

“There were a few negative Town Hall meetings such as the one Steve King (an Iowa representative vocally opposed to immigrants and immigration reform) held, but for the most part, the opponents were silent, not listened to, or overshadowed by supporters,” Barbic said.

Of course, the question remains whether what happened in August can be translated into votes this fall for the measure.  Barbic said that while there were a couple of Republican representatives that announced their support for immigration reform during the recess, there does not appear to be enough Republican votes to pass immigration legislation on their own.  The big question is when and under what process Republican leadership of the House will bring immigration to the floor for consideration.

Many vote counters believe that the vast majority of Democrats, plus a minority of Republican votes, could pass comprehensive immigration reform in the House, but Congress typically doesn’t work that way.  There has to be a majority of the majority to usually bring issues to the House floor.  If House leadership moves forward by bringing individual pieces of reform legislation to the floor, Democrats will need to support some of these measures in order to keep the process moving.

The idea of a discharge petition, which forces a bill to the floor if the majority of all representatives ask for a vote, has been floated, but Barbic says that tactic rarely works.  He said party leaders can typically convince their own members not to sign such a petition.  “The House leadership has said it will act on immigration reform this fall so we need to keep up the pressure on Congress, letting them know that inaction is not an option.”

Echoing Rep. Lofgren’s comments, Barbic said that how other difficult issues on the table are addressed will have an impact on passage of the immigration reform legislation this session.

“Everything really depends on what the House leadership is going to do,” said Barbic.  “Immigration reform is a difficult issue that requires creative and courageous leadership.  We will know fairly soon what path is chosen.”

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Ken Barbic