WASHINGTON – House Republicans are facing increased pressure from the White House and members of the Senate to act on immigration reform but it appears leadership doesn’t intend to address the issue any time soon.
Lawmakers who attended a meeting of the GOP caucus last week said leadership is still formulating its answer to the nation’s immigration problem and probably won’t have any defined plan until after the August recess. It’s possible, however, that immigration-related measures that already have passed the House Judiciary Committee dealing with enforcement and border security could be placed on the agenda sooner rather than later.
“My job is to do everything I can to facilitate a process for solving this problem,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “And that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
Boehner already has made clear that he doesn’t intend to stage a vote on the “flawed legislation rushed through the Senate” and won’t hold a vote on any bill that doesn’t carry the support of the chamber’s GOP lawmakers.
In a statement, Boehner, House Republican Leader Eric Cantor, and several pre-eminent officials in the Republican caucus expressed their intention to take a “step-by-step, common-sense approach to fixing what has long been a broken system.” The group added that the public doesn’t trust the Democrats or support “a single, massive, Obamacare-like bill.”
President Obama, they said, “has also demonstrated he is willing to unilaterally delay or ignore significant portions of laws he himself has signed, raising concerns among Americans that this administration cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises to secure the border and enforce laws as part of a single, massive bill like the one passed by the Senate.”
For its part, the White House, which remained relatively quiet during the intense negotiations that resulted in the Senate immigration bill, is slowly building up pressure in an effort to force the House to take action.
Obama Press Secretary Jay Carney said the White House will “continue to work with other lawmakers in the House and the Senate as this issue continues to develop.”
“The president will engage, as he has all along, and he will make clear his support for and his insistence upon comprehensive immigration reform because it’s the right thing for our economy and it’s the right thing for our people,” Carney said. “How that manifests itself, what events he may hold, we’ll have to see, because we’re going to make those judgments as this issue ripens over the next weeks and months.”
Asked about the expectation that the House won’t address the issue until after the August recess, Carney responded, “We have said all along that the Congress should address this deliberately but quickly.”
“There has been obviously a great amount of time spent over the years, certainly since the middle of the last decade, on this issue,” he said. “A lot of work has been done. A lot of work was done to produce the bipartisan Senate bill, and now work is being done in the House. So we believe that the House can and should act quickly. We don’t control the House so we obviously have to work with the House, as the Senate does, as they move through this issue.”
The Senate bill, the first major immigration legislation addressed by the upper chamber since 1986, passed in a bipartisan vote of 68-32. It offers illegal immigrants who have resided in the U.S. since Dec. 13, 2011, an opportunity to seek provisional legal status that allows them to work but renders them ineligible for federal benefits. They must pay a penalty, taxes and a processing fee and can only apply for permanent status after 10 years. A new visa program for low-skilled workers would also be developed.
It also hikes border patrol ranks by 20,000 – almost doubling the contingent at a cost of $30 billion — and adds 350 miles of border fencing. It spends $4.5 billion on technical innovations intended to provide security personnel with full situational awareness along the southern border. And it implements an entry-exit visa program to keep tabs on visitors who overextend their stay as well as the so-called e-verify program to make employers aware of a potential worker’s immigration status.
The House is unlikely to pass anything akin to the Senate measure. A significant segment of the controlling Republican caucus opposes any provision that they maintain provides amnesty to the estimated undocumented workers who already reside within the nation’s borders. And they don’t feel the border security steps contained in the Senate bill are sufficient.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of the leading critics of the Senate bill, asserted that it provides “absolutely no benefits for Americans.” He added that there is “no momentum for amnesty in the House.”
“The bill does not promote or ensure any of the principles that we know will ensure a safer and more stable nation,” he said. “Those who voted for this bill sacrificed the rule of law for a meaningless political trophy. Now, we are left with a choice in the House. Conservatives who truly understand the direction that our nation is headed must lead our conference, and prove that the pillars of American exceptionalism will not collapse.”
Regardless, two of the primary architects of the Senate bill, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), remain optimistic that the lower chamber can develop an immigration package that can lead to a compromise.
Schumer said he found Boehner’s position that the issue needs to be addressed “encouraging.”
“We’re moving forward, and immigration reform, I think, has a strong future this year here in Washington,” Schumer said.
Carney also found that among House Republicans “there is a recognition that action has to be taken here. And we consider that a good sign that progress is possible.”
“We’re not going to game out how that progress is going to play out,” Carney said. “Obviously, there are leaders in the House and others who will decide what happens. But we believe that we need to act on comprehensive immigration reform. We believe that, as we demonstrated yesterday, the benefits of comprehensive immigration reform are enormous for the country. I mean we’re talking about $850 billion in deficit reduction.’’
One issue that might yet impede progress is the manner in which the House might approach the subject. Leadership remains reluctant to package disparate immigration measures into one bill, ala Obamacare, which remains the focus of overwhelming GOP enmity. The chance of the chamber developing an omnibus measure is slight, with lawmakers instead preferring a piece-by-piece approach that could eventually complicate negotiations with the Senate.
“While the Senate has every right to pass solutions it deems appropriate, the House does as well,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which is being called on to oversee immigration legislation. “That’s the American legislative process. Since the beginning of the year, the House Judiciary Committee has taken a step-by-step approach to reforming our nation’s immigration laws, embarking on a careful, methodical examination of various components of our immigration system.”
The Heritage Foundation, a key Washington-based conservative think tank, is among those organizations working against a wide-ranging immigration bill, maintaining that Congress should “begin by working on the solutions on which everyone can agree rather than insisting on a comprehensive approach that divides Americans.”
“Today, Washington defaults to turning every big issue into Obamacare — solutions that are labeled politically ‘too big to fail,’ but in practice not only fail to address root problems, but make those problems worse,” the foundation said in a report titled “Advancing the Immigration Nation: Heritage’s Positive Path to Immigration and Border Security Reform.”
“Repeating this practice will be a disaster for immigration and border security,” the report said. “Worse, if Americans acquiesce to a ‘comprehensive’ immigration bill they will send Washington yet another signal that they are satisfied with a government that just does ‘something’ rather than demanding governance that actually solves problems.”