Now that Congress has ended the government shutdown and narrowly averted hitting the nation’s debt ceiling, it should come as no surprise that immigration reform is back in the news. Supporters of reform are pushing for House leadership to bring a path to citizenship and other immigration bills to the floor for a vote, while President Obama has called on lawmakers to improve the U.S. immigration system by the end of the year. “It’s really important for the country. And now is the time to do it,” Obama said in a recent interview.
For some members of Congress the president’s call for immigration reform so soon after the budget showdown is an argument against moving forward. A few say they doubt Obama will negotiate fairly after the budget fight that led to the government shutdown. “I think that anything we do right now with this president on immigration will be with that same goal in mind, which is to destroy the Republican Party and not to get good policies,” said Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-ID) last week. And while he continues to support efforts to fix the nation’s immigration policies, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said Sunday that the government shutdown fight has made immigration reform harder to achieve because the legislation is stuck in the Republican-controlled House. “This notion that they’re going to get in a room and negotiate a deal with the president on immigration is much more difficult to do,” said Rubio, a member of the Gang of Eight that wrote the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill. The Senate passed the bill in June, but it has been stuck in the House because Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has not called it up for a vote.
Other members of Congress are more optimistic, particularly because immigration reform could be a boon for both parties. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), long a champion of a bipartisan solution, told USA Today that lessons from the 1996 government shutdown could offer some optimism. The aftermath of the shutdown led to Congress passing several “big things,” including welfare reform, to prove that Congress could still function. “It was in people’s self-interest to pass some good stuff,” Gutierrez said. “That’s what’s going to drive a lot of what goes on around here.” And it would only take a few GOP House members, according to Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA). “We just need a few courageous Republicans to stand up and say they’re ready,” he said.
The Washington Post wrote in an editorial last week that “it takes political courage to get important things done in Washington.” So far in the immigration debate, the editorial adds, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and other House leaders have only offered out of touch measures that would further militarize the border without offering a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. “That won’t solve the problem, for the Republican Party or the country,” according to the Washington Post’s editorial.
As members of Congress get closer to the 2014 midterm elections, the common wisdom holds that it becomes more difficult for any major piece of legislation to get sufficient support. Consequently, some commentators are arguing that the window for immigration reform is quickly closing. But the 2014 calculus also has to include issues like the fallout from the government shutdown and the breadth of support for an issue among constituents. From that angle, immigration reform, which has wide support even among Republican voters still has a fighting chance, assuming, as the Washington Post editorialized, that courage and common sense prevail.