Immigration reform moves to center stage as the 113th Congress opened session this week. Several early political developments foreshadow the likelihood that this Congress will engage the long-postponed federal action on the current dysfunctional system of immigration law.
Plans from the White House set the stage for an immediate push for immigration reform, beginning this month, according to the Huffington Post’s report from an official who spoke anonymously. Legislative aides reportedly indicated that a bipartisan bill on immigration may take several months to develop but could perhaps be ready for a June vote.
A bipartisan group, informally known as the “Gang of Eight,” has already begun the effort to hammer out a proposal, according to Politico. The involvement of Senators (D-NY), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), (D-NJ), (R-Ariz.), (R-SC), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and (R-Ariz.) lend credence to the surmise that addressing immigration reform will be a legislative priority of the 113th Congress.
Opening day congressional volleys
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi initiated the theme during opening remarks on the first day of the 113th congressional session when she urged action on comprehensive immigration reform. Pelosi identified the effort as a “priority” that was necessary to strengthen US democracy and empower political participation by all.
In contrast, newly reelected House Speaker John Boehner pointedly avoided any mention of immigration reform in his opening speech, although immigration is a stated priority of the Obama administration. However, Rep.(R-Wash.) did introduce immigration as an area that Congress would address when she nominated Boehner for a second term as speaker.
Gutierrez moves for immigration
This week, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) relinquished over 20 years of seniority as the third-ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee so that he can channel his influence for immigration reform on the House Judiciary Committee. Gutierrez stated that “all of the road signs are pointed in the right direction” to get immigration reform “over the finish line.” His passion and commitment have remained consistent; he wants to fix the broken system.
In a statement announcing his committee move, Gutierrez indicated that the moment has arrived to accomplish the overdue federal reform of immigration law.
“We have record levels of deportations and millions of families separated by borders and out-of-date laws. We can't wait and wait and wait for immigration reform, and I am finding an enthusiasm for action that I have not seen on Capitol Hill for years,” stated Gutierrez.
Rubio’s immigration initiative
Sen. proposes an alternative to the Gang of Eight agenda. Rubio and Rep. (R-Wis.) are building a comprehensive series of smaller immigration bills. They aspire to appeal to conservatives who are more apt to oppose sweeping changes endorsed by the Gang of Eight and the White House.(R-Fla.)
Partisan reevaluation on immigration
The Republican Party’s decline among Latino and Asian-American voters, as evidenced in the 2012 election, "is due in large part to the GOP’s embrace of a hard-line immigration stance." [America’s Voice pdf] The 2012 election has subsequently launched a new politics of immigration. Republicans realize that the future of their party depends on improved performance among Latino voters, who are proponents of immigration reform. Democrats likewise need to solidify the Latino vote and promote reform with action, not just words.
Federal leaders are also being pushed by state leadership. Taking a positive tack, the bipartisan Colorado Compact lays out agreed-upon principles needed for authentic immigration reform. This augments a similar platform laid by the Utah Compact. From a negative tack, state legislation from Arizona and Georgia, among others, to control the presence of undocumented immigrants have similarly forced the issue.
Both Republican and Democratic congressional leaders state that they intend to tackle immigration reform in the 113th Congress. This also has long been a stated promise of President, who has reiterated that immigration reform would be a top priority of his during his second term.
Last week’s launch of the 113th Congress opens the door to finally getting the job done.
There will be tremendous pressure on Congress and the president to produce some reform, but reform does not come easily. Proponents of change, from the left and the right, see the new hope for action. But, as the recent “fiscal cliff” standoff teaches, political battles can be excruciatingly protracted and dishearteningly uncompromising.
A more diversified Congress may lend credence to the ability to finally make a move toward accomplishing the job that Congress has been unable to tackle for decades.
At the very least, it’s “game on,” in the words of America’s Voice. The political scene of the 113th Congress will offer a spectacle to the nation who knows that immigration has been an unaddressed problem for far too long.