Is 2014 the Year for Immigration Reform?

In early January, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) said that there is too much animosity regarding immigration reform for Democrats and Republicans to reach a realistic compromise before 2015.

“Comprehensive immigration reform is hard to do with the best environment between the executive branch between the House and Senate. We don’t have the best opportunity,” Issa, a contributing author to the high-skilled employee version of immigration reform, said.

But President Obama was recently described as “cautiously optimistic” about Republican compromise and expects Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to pass immigration reform this year.

Republicans may feel politically vulnerable during the 2014 election cycle if they sidestep immigration reform, especially since it is a high-priority issue with Hispanic voters.

“I think our Republican colleagues realize that to be blocking immigration reform is not good for them,” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) said.

What gives President Obama hope that the House Republicans will go forward with immigration reform this year? Boehner has made several recent moves that seem to signal his desire for bringing legislation to the floor. One such move was hiring Rebecca Tallent to serve as his new director of immigration policy.

Tallent previously worked for Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who co-sponsored the Senate immigration bill with Senator Schumer in 2013. In addition, he and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) told House colleagues at a closed-door meeting early this month that immigration reform would be a priority in 2014.

It is believed that Boehner plans to unveil a set of Republican guidelines for immigration reform before President Obama’s State of the Union address on January 28.  One of the trickiest and divisive issues continues to be granting the estimated 11 million undocumented residents a path to U.S. citizenship.

It is thought that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) will take the lead in authoring this aspect of the bill and will offer a path to citizenship through existing channels.

Conservative House Republicans oppose proposals that offer a path to citizenship for millions of these undocumented residents, which they consider to be a form of amnesty for law-breakers. In fact, House conservatives rejected the most recent immigration reform bill because it included a special 13-year path to U.S. citizenship.

On the other hand, advocates for immigration reform are fine with granting a path to citizenship through existing avenues.

Provided that those existing channels are wide enough, immigration reform advocates support the current pathways, Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said.

What would an immigration reform bill look like coming from the House of Representatives? Boehner has said in the past the House would “not act on a comprehensive bill, but instead pass a series of measures.”

These measures are expected to emphasize border and interior security measures and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

“I feel like the dynamics in the House are definitely tilting in our favor right now,” Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, said.

Fitz added that he also thought it was likely that immigration reform advocates may be frustrated by the lack of detail in the Republican legislation.

While Republicans may propose a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented residents, they want legalization tied to stronger enforcement. As such, Republicans are expected to push for granting more power to state and local authorities to enforce immigration laws, a point that Democrats generally oppose.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), a co-sponsor of the senate bill, stated that legislation to enact a path to legal citizenship is far from passage. However, he believes that a series of legislative proposals brought forth in the House could build momentum that could lead to the passage of an immigration reform bill in the House.

Wilkes said that a piecemeal approach would be acceptable to advocates of immigration reform as long as the House addresses each of the areas covered by the Senate bill.

House Democrats welcome Boehner’s moves toward immigration reform, but will want to see the proposals before they commit to supporting their contents.

In the end, passage of an immigration reform bill is about meeting half way.  The question that remains to be answered in 2014 is how far Democrats and Republicans willing to bend for the sake of immigration reform?

“I think we have a very realistic chance to legalize undocumented immigrans, put millions on a path to citizenship, stop the deportations that are brutalizing immigrant communities and restore legal immigration if we work together in a bipartisan fashion in Washington,” Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said.