Despite the “Gang of Eight” in the House reaching a compromise agreement on an immigration reform bill this week, the legislation still faces a steep, uphill climb before it reaches President Obama’s desk for his signature.
The Senate seems reasonably certain to pass a version of immigration reform sometime this summer. The final tally may see upwards of 70 senators voting for the measure.
But it is equally certain that the senate bill will be DOA in the House, due largely to a “path to citizenship” in the legislation as well as inadequate border security measures.
Then there is the guest worker program. GOP House members see the senate version as far too generous to low-skilled workers and worry that despite promises to the contrary, millions of immigrants will become immediately eligible for Obamacare and other social welfare benefits.
The differences between the House and Senate approaches are vast and it is doubtful at this stage whether they can resolve the issues in conference.
If the House bill survives the entire chamber, the House and Senate will need to negotiate the considerable differences. The House bill, reflecting its Republican members, is already more conservative, and is likely to become even more so after making its way through that chamber.
For example, the Senate bill has a 13-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, with a faster track for DREAM Act-eligible immigrants. In the House, negotiators have agreed on a 15-year pathway to citizenship that would require immigrants to go through a process where they admit they violated immigration laws, and be put under probationary status. The House bill would also include a shorter pathway for DREAM Act immigrants – those who were brought into the United States without documents as children.
House negotiators have also agreed to include a trigger that would shut down the legalization process if E-Verify is not installed within five years.
The Senate bill alone is a delicate bipartisan compromise, and pulling that legislation too much to the right or left could risk unraveling the entire agreement. A more conservative House bill will run into resistance from liberal Democratic senators — several of whom have already proposed changes to the Senate bill that makes the pathway to citizenship more generous or add provisions to cover gay partners.
On top of that, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his leadership team need to keep an eye on the far right, because conservatives like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) are already denouncing any kind of reform.
“If there’s anything that looks like amnesty that’s brought before this Congress it would be exactly the wedge that splits the Republican Party in this House,” he said in an interview. “There are a whole lot of conservatives that haven’t spoken out. They’re increasing in their intensity in this thing. I can just feel it.”
And with all the attention on Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) bipartisan work with Schumer (D-N.Y.), you would think that bill could sail through the conservative House.
“I have been exceedingly deferential to my Senate colleagues because I think they deserve a lot of credit,” Diaz-Balart added. “But there’s no doubt that a House bill will have to be a lot different than the Senate bill.”
I think the lack of border security guarantees in the senate bill could, alone, kill the entire process. There’s no bridging that gap between the two versions because it’s a matter of philosophy, not legislation. The House GOP might cave on a generous guest worker program, and may even entertain some kind of path to citizenship that won’t be called that.
But truly, some House conservatives have exactly the right idea; incremental reforms.
Congress should make it illegal to put the word “comprehensive” in any piece of legislation. Simply put, we are incapable of making good law when so many unintended consequences flow from the kind of “comprehensive” reform we see in Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and even tax reform.
Some House Republicans want to address the problem of immigration piecemeal — that is, bring to the floor specific legislation dealing with a specific issue. A separate bill for border security, guest workers, DREAM act, and even a path to citizenship. Democrats hate this approach because it’s so much harder to pass everything they want. But that’s the way it should be in a republic. Altering society by changing the way we deal with immigrants should be very difficult to achieve in order to insure that unforeseen consequences relating to the legislation can be minimized.
That is prudent governance. And that’s the way our congress should work.