Immigration Reform's Dim Future

For House Republicans, now is the time for the politics of self-preservation.

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While the Senate passes an immigration reform bill this week, the dirty cynical little secret that most political analysts in Washington know is that the prospects of having an immigration bill sent by Congress to the president's desk for signature is very slim.  

Let's take out whether immigration reform is the right or wrong thing to do and examine the raw politics of survival. Smart politicians understand that our nation's electorate is changing. Thousands of Hispanic Americans are eligible to vote each month, and soon white voters in this country will be the minority. The idea of passing a law that finally addresses the immigration issues our country faces seems to make sense. If you are an elected official running for president or a United States senator with large numbers of Hispanic Americans in your state, making yourself look good to millions of potential voters is very appealing.

But the politics of self-preservation are working against the immigration bill. Many House Republicans don't see the landscape in the same way. Most GOP lawmakers have been elected safely into solidly Republican districts and have very different concerns, especially over border security.    

[See a collection of political cartoons on immigration.]

The Senate Republican leadership voted against the measure,  giving House leaders some breathing room. Speaker of the House John Boehner has said that the House will not take up the Senate bill, but will produce its own version through the committee process or "regular order."

The Senate bill contains a 13-year path to citizenship for 11 million people who are here illegally and has stringent border security measures that must be met before illegal immigrants can gain legal status. It is highly unlikely that a House immigration bill would ever have the path to citizenship language that the Senate bill contains.  

The House GOP are watching their backs from potential primary opponents who would run to the right of them. If they supported a Senate immigration bill, it's likely the challengers would emerge in droves to throw them out of office. At the same time, the House Republican leadership recognizes that if they don't produce an immigration reform bill, the Democrats led by President Obama will continue to hammer them for being anti-Hispanic.  

[Vote: Should the Senate Have Passed Immigration Reform?]

The key for House Republicans to protecting the already damaged GOP brand would be to produce a conservative immigration bill that will get 218 votes and make it into conference negotiations with the Senate. Lawmakers can tell their constituents that they voted for immigration reform that protected the rights of Americans while securing the border. It also somewhat dilutes the attacks from Democrats that Republicans are acting out of touch.

Both versions of immigration reform will be stuck in conference and as an election year quickly approaches, it's going to be more difficult to reach a consensus. The blame game between both parties will ensue and voters will grimace once again about the gridlock in Washington.

The big question now is with four weeks left until the August recess, will House Republicans be able to put together an immigration reform bill that will pass the floor so they can get into a conference? After the failure to pass the farm bill, the chances of this happening are growing dimmer. 

  • Read Brad Bannon: Immigration Reform Passes Senate, Now in Boehner's Hands
  • Read Leslie Marshall: Supreme Court DOMA, Voting Rights Act Decisions Show the Power of the Vote
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