Obama’s Words Won’t Advance Immigration

For reform to happen, it needs supportive House Republicans to navigate a narrow path toward passage.

US President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform alongside Vice President Joe Biden (L) in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, October 24, 2013. The President renewed his call for Congress to pass sweeping immigration reform. 
National Journal
Fawn Johnson
Oct. 24, 2013, 10 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama called again for im­mig­ra­tion re­form on Thursday. He’ll prob­ably do it next week too. And the week after that.

But un­til sup­port­ive Re­pub­lic­ans come up with a plan for con­vin­cing their col­leagues to ad­vance some piece of le­gis­la­tion, im­mig­ra­tion re­form will not—can­not—ad­vance bey­ond the rhet­or­ic the pres­id­ent em­ployed on Thursday.

There is cer­tainly a path for­ward. It’s nar­row but nav­ig­able.

Ask Flor­ida’s Mario Diaz-Bal­art, one of the few House Re­pub­lic­ans who des­per­ately wants to leg­al­ize un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants and cre­ate a new visa sys­tem that will al­low fu­ture ar­rivals to come here leg­ally.

He knows the sales pitch can’t in­clude the words “com­pre­hens­ive” or “path to cit­izen­ship.”

His strategy is to get half of the House Re­pub­lic­ans—roughly 118 law­makers—to tell House Speak­er John Boehner they can live with some kind of ad­just­ment of status (Note: not “leg­al­iz­a­tion”) for the un­au­thor­ized pop­u­la­tion.

Then, Diaz-Bal­art would see House lead­er­ship put a series of single-is­sue im­mig­ra­tion bills on the floor—one on bor­der se­cur­ity, one on ag­ri­cul­tur­al work­ers, one on elec­tron­ic veri­fic­a­tion, one on non­farm guest work­ers, one on un­doc­u­mented youth who were brought here as kids, and one on “a pro­cess where people can get right with the law.” (Hint: That last one is leg­al­iz­a­tion, but the words mat­ter.)

“We’re go­ing to re­quire floor time” for all those meas­ures, Diaz-Bal­art said. “Time is our biggest hurdle.”

It’s en­tirely pos­sible that not all of those bills would pass on the floor. (Cer­tainly, lots of Re­pub­lic­ans would chafe at any­thing that smacks of leg­al­iz­ing people who live here without pa­pers.) But as long as a few of them pass, with Demo­crats’ help, that’s enough to get talks go­ing with the Sen­ate.

Boehner has already pledged to stay away from a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee with the Sen­ate on a big bill, like the one the up­per cham­ber passed in June that in­cluded a path to cit­izen­ship. But the speak­er has left open the door to present­ing the Sen­ate with a pack­age of smal­ler bills.

The people closest to the situ­ation say House ac­tion on any­thing im­mig­ra­tion-re­lated is a path fraught with per­il. But one thing is cer­tain: It has noth­ing to do with what Obama says.

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