Speaker Boehner: We’ll Have Immigration Reform This Year
Speaker Boehner seems confident that immigration reform will become law this year, but his confidence may be premature.
The Senate voted overwhelmingly today to go forward with debate on the immigration bill that is currently before it, the first of many procedural votes likely to take place over the next month or so as they debate the bill. The final tally on the bill was 82-15, with a majority of Republicans voting to move forward with the bill, including the new Senator from New Jersey Jeff Chiesa. I’m not sure that we can take this as a signal of the bills ultimate fate in the Upper Chamber of Congress, but it is certainly a strong bipartisan vote and that can only help the bills fate. Regardless of what happens in the Senate, the real unknown in the immigration debate remains the House of Representatives, where a significant portion of the GOP Caucus appears reluctant to support the bill or even address the bill. Indeed, the House GOP’s own efforts to create a bill like the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” seem to be stagnating at this point. Despite this, though, Speaker John Boehner is fairly optimistic that some kind of immigration reform will pass this year:
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday predicted that lawmakers would pass immigration reform by year’s end.
“I think by the end of the year, we could have a bill,” said Boehner in an interview aired on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Boehner, though, said he had “real concerns” with the immigration reform proposal in the Senate.
“I want to applaud the efforts of the Gang of Eight in the Senate, applaud my colleagues who’ve worked hard on this. But especially in the area of border security and internal enforcement of this system I’m concerned that it doesn’t go far enough,” he said.
The Senate will begin debate on its immigration bill today. That measure crafted by a bipartisan group would create a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country and tighten border security.
Many conservatives, however, say the proposal amounts to amnesty and does too little to stop the flow of workers illegally crossing the border.
A bipartisan House group is also working on its own plan, and Boehner said he expected the bill to pass committee by the end of June.
“Chairman Goodlatte at the Judiciary Committee has been working through these issues with his members. And I’m hopeful that we’ll have a product come out of the committee by the end of June,” he said.
One of the sticking points for House Republicans appears to be the whole concept of a path to citizenship for people who have been illegally. The Senate would offer such a path, but only after such people paid back taxes and fines associated with their years of violating U.S. immigration laws. In exchange, they’d be placed into a legal status that would allow them to work legally in the United States, and would put them at the back of the line when it comes to applying for citizenship, with priority being given first to people who have been complying with the law all along. To me, this seems like a fair compromise on the issue. The alternative which many on the right would propose would grant legal status but it would not permit people who came here illegally to ever apply for citizenship, only their children would be eligible to do this. As I’ve said before, this strikes me as problematic because it would end up creating a permanent sub-class of people in our midst. Today, anyone who is here legally with a “Green Card” can eventually be entitled to apply for citizenship at some point in the future if they wish. Under the GOP proposal, there would be an entire group of legal permanent residents who could never do that, and there doesn’t seem to be any rational reason for this other than being punitive against these people. That’s not a good policy, nor is it a good reason for bad policy.
As for Boehner, Greg Sargent notes that what goes unasked in his interview is exactly how he’d be willing to let a bill come up for a vote, especially given the fact that almost any bill is likely to face significant Republican opposition:
[E]ither way — however we get there — it is becoming more and more likely that the prospects for real reform turn on whether the House will pass a comprehensive bill with mostly Democratic support. There’s been a lot of speculation that this would cost Boehner his Speakership. But Boehner’s comment — that ultimately this is about “what the House wants” - is telling. If many mainstream House conservatives privately want reform to pass (without voting for it) that very well could happen, with mostly Democratic support, at no real risk to Boehner. The Speaker left the door open to that possibility today, and that’s a big deal.
Which ever way it plays out, Boehner is likely right that this is something that is going to take much of the rest of the year to get passed. It will be at least sometime in early July before the Senate actually casts its final votes on this matter. Assuming it passes, that would mean that the House would get the bill mere weeks before the traditional August recess, clearly insufficient time to push something about which people are so passionate through the House. That means that House debate on this issue will likely stretch into September, which is traditionally the time that Congress spends most of its time dealing with budget bills before the expiration of the Fiscal Year at the end of the month. So, it’s likely to be October before the House starts dealing with this seriously. Perhaps that will be enough time for Republicans to come to terms of acceptance with the fact of immigration reform so that they vote can go through. In either case, Boehner’s comments should give immigration reform advocates some hope, but it’s still going to be a long fight in which the outcome is far from certain.