Could Syria Strikes Kill Immigration Reform?

Syria, budget issues might crowd out the possibility of passing immigration reform this year.


Upcoming Syria and budget issues in Congress might crowd out the possibility of passing immigration reform this year.

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Advocates for immigration reform were already nervous that the nine working days Congress had on the calendar in September would be eaten up with budget debates to keep the government funded and keep the country from defaulting on its debt. No one anticipated that a military conflict would be added to that tight timeline.

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With Congress on the brink of authorizing military strikes in Syria, immigration advocates are apprehensive that the ground work they've been laying all year might not end with a legislative victory or bitter defeat on the House floor. They worry instead the issue might just collapse under the weight of the political issues stacking up on top of it, emerging only as an election-year talking point ripped from each party's political playbook.

"It is going to be a legislative scheduling issue. I don't know if we have enough calendar days in the schedule to address," says Brad Bailey, the founder of Texas Immigration Solutions, a conservative group working to pass immigration reform through the House. "Syria popped up, but our economy and our broken immigration system are also very important. Our four walls have to be a priority."

Not only is the calendar an obstacle, many on Capitol Hill are concerned that the Obama administration's all-out political blitz on Syria could chip away at the president's already fleeting popularity with lawmakers.

This week ,the White House has dispatched top administration officials along with former senators Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to make the case for military intervention.

It is unclear if Kerry and Hagel will be able to garner the support they need to get the resolution passed, but even if they do, it may not help immigration reform.

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"At some point, the most conservative members of the House Republican conference will feel that they've made too many compromises with the Democratic Senate and President," says political strategist Michael DiNiscia, the associate director of the Brademas Center for Congress at New York University. "Postponing or abandoning immigration reform may be the price the White House is forced to pay in exchange for compromises on these other must-pass items of the agenda."

After an August recess that was devoid of sweeping outcries against reform, pro-immigration groups were feeling confident. With Syria, the tables have turned. The anti-immigration movement sees a conflict in the Middle East as its saving grace.

"It seems to me the time is on the side of opponents," says Mark Krikorian, the director of the Center for Immigration Studies. "Anything that kicks the can down the road into an election year is useful for us."

Brent Wilkes, the executive director for the League of United Latin American Citizens, argues that the extra time might actually be a positive step for the pro-immigration movement.

The issue, he says, has forced long-time political foes like House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and President Barack Obama to present a united front to Congress.

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"For the first time in a long time it seems, the president and the Republican majority in the House agree on something," Wilkes says. "They are supporting each other on an issue, which is in my book, a good sign. If they continue that engagement, there might be an opportunity to engage more on immigration reform."

Bailey says that with 535 members in the U.S. Congress, there might even be the opportunity for members to work on more than one issue at a time.

"We face multiple problems everyday and hopefully Congress can juggle two problems at one time and fix it," Bailey says.

More News:

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  • Anti-Immigration Hard-Liners Most United in GOP Caucus