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From The Archives -- Immigration Reform's Chances

[ Posted Thursday, June 20th, 2013 – 16:00 PDT ]

Program Note

This is a stunningly-optimistic column I wrote at the end of January. As you'll see, I predict a better than 8-in-10 chance of comprehensive immigration reform becoming law this year. Now that roughly half the year has already passed, I still remain incredibly (but, perhaps, no longer "stunningly") optimistic about the chances that we'll see President Obama sign some sort of bill before we ring in the new year.

At the present time, I would revise my prediction downwards, but only slightly. I still put the chances of comprehensive immigration reform -- complete with a "path to citizenship" -- at about 70-75 percent. That's still pretty rosy-colored optimistic, I realize, at this point.

But take a look at how I read the political landscape five months ago. It's still fairly accurate, although Marco Rubio has been battered a lot more than I would have expected, at this point in the process. Even so, I still remain overwhelmingly optimistic. Call me a starry-eyed fool if you must....

A lot of the reasons why my position hasn't changed much is that not much has actually happened in Congress. I did think we'd be a lot further down the road, by this point, I will fully admit. A bill has made it out of committee and survived the first filibuster attempt to make it onto the floor of the Senate. I expected this about mid-February, or maybe as late as March. Such is the glacial pace of Washington.

But still... but still... the chances of such sweeping legislation's actually becoming reality are still better this year than they have been in quite a while. There are two major power brokers pushing for such a bill from within the Republican power structure: the "establishment" Republicans (who can read demographics and accurately predict future Electoral College chances for the next generation); and "Big Business" (who want a cheap labor supply, and don't particularly care about the politics behind achieving this goal). Those are some pretty powerful puppet-string-pullers, and I'm still betting that when push comes to shove, they'll be the ones calling the shots. I could be wrong, as always, but I'm still feeling 70-75 percent optimistic, so make of that what you will.

 

[Originally published January 29, 2013]

Does comprehensive immigration reform have a chance of becoming law in 2013?

This is the question all pundits are asking themselves this particular week, so I thought I'd give my thoughts, here at the beginning of what will likely be a long and drawn-out debate. I start out optimistic, personally, and put the chance that sweeping, inclusive immigration reform will happen at a healthy 80-85 percent.

As I said, that's pretty optimistic. It will be subject to change, as the glaciated wheels of the legislative process clank and clunk forward, ever-so-slowly, over the upcoming months. With the twists and turns of Congress which await, I'm sure there'll be times when I offer up much more pessimistic predictions of actual passage, but for now I'm comfortable with 80-85 percent.

There's a reason for my rosy-colored outlook, and that reason was alluded to when the "Gang of Eight" brought forth their plans, yesterday. The Democrats have always wanted to pass comprehensive immigration reform, but right now the Republicans need to pass an immigration reform bill. Their party's future pretty much depends on it, at this point. Which is why I think a fairly good bill will emerge with a very healthy majority in the Senate, and that eventually John Boehner will chuck aside the "Hastert Rule" and allow a vote in which a few dozen Republicans help the overwhelming majority of Democrats to pass the bill.

Of course, I could be wrong. There are more ways to derail a bill than you can shake a stick at, up on Capitol Hill. And there are certainly Republicans who would disagree that they "need" such a bill at such a time -- and some of them will fight hard against the idea.

Just look at the timing of this week's announcements on immigration reform. President Obama scheduled an event in Las Vegas to announce his plans. Before he could get there, though, the senators jumped ahead of Obama, and gave a news conference on Monday. This, to me, shows that Marco Rubio is still annoyed at Obama pulling the rug out from under him last year on the DREAM Act. Senator Rubio doesn't just want or need an immigration reform bill to pass, to him it will be the centerpiece of his upcoming presidential run. Rubio is positioning himself as The Republican Of The Future, who is the epitome of post-racism and as such will lead the party out of the darkness to offer the hand of inclusion to a demographic group which will otherwise bury the party in national elections for the next few decades. And Rubio didn't want to get upstaged by Obama once again, which doubtlessly led to yesterday's surprise press conference.

Rubio, and a few other Republicans, are going to not just push for immigration reform, they are going to champion it. This is important, because of the "only Nixon could go to China" aspect of the problem Republicans face. Smart Republicans know they've got to change their image among Latinos. But the only way this can happen is if one of their own leads the way. Republicans cannot be seen as "following Democrats' lead" -- or, even worse, "following President Obama's lead" -- on the issue. Fixing immigration must be repackaged as a Republican idea for it to even be slightly palatable for House members (to say nothing of the base Republican voters).

Rubio might be able to successfully pull this off. Impressively, he has been busy in a flurry of media appearances -- including the hardest of the hardliners on the right. So far, he's managed to charm such righty luminaries as Rush Limbaugh, to at least give him a respectful hearing. Taking on the rabid and reactionary elements of his own party is going to be crucial for Rubio to succeed, so it's interesting to see him in such a full-fledged media blitz. Which, so far, seems to be pretty successful in at least changing the tone of the debate on the right side of the airwaves.

The biggest stumbling block any legislation will face (other than amendments which gnaw away at its core ideals, which is always an obstruction), though, will be from House members with rock-solid districts, and the Republican voters themselves. Some House Republicans are in such safe districts that it really doesn't matter how extreme their language ever gets -- they'll still get comfortably re-elected. Even Republicans in less-extreme districts know that yelling "Amnesty!" at the drop of a hat isn't going to have much of a negative effect on their own chances for re-election. Republicans have been using this anti-immigration-reform sloganeering for so long, it's reflexive for a lot of them.

The problem for people like Marco Rubio and other Republicans who are trying to change their party from the inside is that the language and the tone of a large portion of their base is even more stridently anti-immigrant than the hottest of the House Republican hotheads. This has been such a hot-button issue on the right for so many years even a president from their own party couldn't convince them to get behind an immigration reform bill, only a few years ago.

House Republicans, especially, fear a backlash from the base over the issue. They saw what happened to Democrats in the gun control fights in the 1990s, and they know that getting "primaried" by a more-extreme candidate is definitely a possibility.

Even having said all of that, though, I still see very high chances for success. If the Senate passes a bill, the pressure is going to increase on John Boehner to act. If the Senate passes a bill with a large bipartisan vote, the pressure is going to become unbearable on Boehner. He has one real route open to him to stall the matter into oblivion, and that is to pass his own "immigration reform" bill with such Draconian provisions that it'll be downright unworkable in the real world. He can then say that "this is the only thing that will pass the House" and throw it into a conference committee with the Senate, in the hopes the whole matter will just die on that particular vine.

If he can't even get enough Republicans on board with such a maneuver, however, at some point Boehner will almost certainly have to ignore the self-imposed "Hastert Rule" among Republicans (which states the Speaker will never bring up a bill that doesn't have a "majority of the majority" behind it), and bring up the Senate's bill. Democrats will only need a handful of Republican votes -- likely only two to three dozen, depending on their own defections within their ranks -- to pass the measure and put it on the president's desk.

Smart Republicans know that this is crucial to their party's chances in future national elections. Anyone that can do a simple Electoral College count can see Republican chances for taking the White House are dwindling fast if no action is taken. They need a bill to pass. They're really hoping it can pass without much anti-immigrant rhetoric, in fact, but that's likely a bridge too far to expect.

Boehner is going to wind up being the key to the whole deal. He may lose his speakership over the matter, in fact, whether he passes a bill or not. Passionate feelings still exist in the Republican Party at large over immigration, and they are not going to fade away just in the hopes of chasing some future demographic edge in electoral politics. Senator Rubio, so far, seems willing to go toe-to-toe with the most virulently anti-immigrant forces within his own party -- and, so far, he seems to be doing a great job of shifting their anger towards that dastardly President Obama and those conniving Democrats.

Which is why I'm so (perhaps "overly") hopeful. Strong forces are behind getting something done, this time around, from both sides of the aisle. Demagoguery is going to happen, but perhaps this time it can be beaten back. The fallout may be fierce in many ways, but as of this moment, I'm pegging the chances a fairly-good bill will arrive on Obama's desk at better than eight in ten.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

17 Comments on “From The Archives -- Immigration Reform's Chances”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    In an effort to be concise, I will ask one simple question..

    On what planet is it a good idea to add millions of low-end workers to a job market that is already overly stuffed and saturated with low end workers??

    1000 quatloos says I don't see a legitimate answer...

    Michale

  2. [2] 
    db wrote:

    Because those "low end" workers don't stay "low end" workers.

    Any immigrant to the US, but particularly those who would flaunt laws, and risk their lives to get here, are the ones with the most "can-do" spirit. They may come needing jobs; but pretty soon they're starting their own businesses. They hire others, immigrants or not, and thus are the very "job creators" ostensibly loved by Republicans.

    Your 1000 quatloos should be donated to your local homeless shelter. I don't require the whole 1000. I'll settle for $25 to the shelter.

  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    Because those "low end" workers don't stay "low end" workers.

    What do you base that on??

    Any immigrant to the US, but particularly those who would flaunt laws, and risk their lives to get here, are the ones with the most "can-do" spirit.

    But we're not talking about IMMIGRANTS..

    We are talking about heretofore ILLEGAL immigrants..

    And, as crime statistics show, the only "can do" spirit in ILLEGAL immigrants is of the criminal type.. Generally speaking...

    They may come needing jobs; but pretty soon they're starting their own businesses. They hire others, immigrants or not

    Can I see your evidence to back this up??

    Your 1000 quatloos should be donated to your local homeless shelter. I don't require the whole 1000. I'll settle for $25 to the shelter.

    Fair enough. I am nothing, if not a man of my word..

    But it would have more meaning if it were donated to YOUR local homeless shelter. Post or email a link with a donation page to a shelter or charity of your choice, PayPal'able if possible.

    I will send the donation and post the receipt..

    Michale

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    They may come needing jobs; but pretty soon they're starting their own businesses. They hire others, immigrants or not

    Regardless of that, you must concede that THAT won't likely happen for many MANY years, if it happens at all..

    And it still won't change the fact that, in the here and now AND the near future, those millions of new workers are going to be dumped into a job market that already has a VERY large over-abundance of workers of that type..

    So, where is the logic in over-stressing an already over-stressed market??

    A stress that might push up OTHER minority unemployment up over 50% or more...

    The Left in this country (and around the world) have a great big issue with the United States being the world's police force..

    Why should we be the world's welfare agency or job placement agency??

    Michale

  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    “Comprehensive Immigration reform would exert downward pressure on wages at a time when we are already losing our middle class.”
    -Senator Barbara Boxer

    That's EXACTLY what I am saying...

    Funny thing is, Barbra Call-Me-Senator Boxer voiced that opposition when it was Bush's Immigration plan..

    Now that it's the Democrat's Immigration plan, all of the sudden the impact on the job market and unemployment is not an issue..

    Wish I could say I was surprised...

    Michale

  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    {Boxer} sponsored an amendment to eliminate the bill’s guest-worker program, which would have allowed about 600,000 unskilled workers into the country on temporary visas. The program, Boxer argued at the time, was designed “to create a permanent pool of insecure and low-paid workers whom I believe will never leave the country, even though they are supposed to, according to the rules of the program. This will only continue the cycle of illegal immigration.”

    Boxer was not alone. Sixteen Democrats, including labor-union allies Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Tom Harkin (Iowa), voted against the final bill that year, many after expressing similar concerns about its potential impact on American workers.

    Once again, the power of the almighty '-X' is on display for all to see...

    Michale

  7. [7] 
    db wrote:

    Michale,

    My evidence is that most hiring is done by small businesses & immigrants legal or otherwise start a fair proportion of new small businesses.

    I am willing to go so far as to say that someone willing to float 90 miles through shark infested water on an inflated tire; or someone willing to sneak through the desert; are the very people with the drive & initiative necessary to start a business & the determination to make it a success.

    I agree that immigration is a difficult issue. I'm only sure that walls, fences, and national ID cards are not the answer.

    I don't need you to donate to my local shelter. It's enough that the homeless in your area are helped. You do not have to post your receipt. Your word is more than enough.

  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    DB,

    My evidence is that most hiring is done by small businesses & immigrants legal or otherwise start a fair proportion of new small businesses.

    I would grant you that immigrants are the driving force behind small businesses..

    However, I find it very difficult to believe that ILLEGAL immigrants have any kind of relevant small business creation impact. Especially in light of the post 9/11 world we live in.

    The documentation requirements alone would prohibit it.

    At least, I would think/hope so...

    I am willing to go so far as to say that someone willing to float 90 miles through shark infested water on an inflated tire; or someone willing to sneak through the desert; are the very people with the drive & initiative necessary to start a business & the determination to make it a success.

    If they had that drive you ascribe to them, then they would do their immigration LEGALLY..

    To me, anyone who goes thru such lengths to avoid legal immigration is not someone I think of as a contributing member of our country.

    I think that just reflects our outlooks on life.

    You're the humanitarian, I am more concerned with safety and security...

    I agree that immigration is a difficult issue. I'm only sure that walls, fences, and national ID cards are not the answer.

    Walls, fences and ID cards are not immigration tools. They are security tools..

    I don't need you to donate to my local shelter. It's enough that the homeless in your area are helped. You do not have to post your receipt. Your word is more than enough.

    I am flattered.. Truly...

    I'll make it happen..

    Michale

  9. [9] 
    Michale wrote:

    All of the afore is not meant to say that I don't believe our immigration process is perfect..

    It definitely needs a major overhaul..

    But the way to do that WITHOUT impacting and causing major upheavals to the low and middle class is to revamp our IMMIGRANT system. Not the ILLEGAL Immigrant system..

    Increase green cards for higher end DESIRABLE immigrants.. Increase quotas for hi-tech workers.

    The problem with they way it's being done now is it is STILL too hard for the good immigrants to come to this country..

    All we are doing with the current legislation is making it a LOT easier for the dregs and criminals of other societies to bring all their problems to this country...

    Which is not to say that I am advocating that ALL immigrants are the dregs and criminals of other societies. I am not. Not at all..

    But the problem with our current laws AND the legislation being bandied about is that it makes little to no effort to separate the good immigrants from the undesirables...

    I won't even bother touching on the political aspects (IE "Undocumented Democrats) because THAT is self-evident.. :D

    Michale

  10. [10] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    To me, anyone who goes thru such lengths to avoid legal immigration is not someone I think of as a contributing member of our country.

    that might be the case if our laws regarding legal immigration were within the bounds of reason. They're not. Some people who want to immigrate legally from mexico have waited 20 years. that means if your wife is pregnant, by the time you are allowed to come to the US, your kid is an adult and can't come with you. It's a no-win scenario, and for argument's sake let's just say that some people don't believe in the no-win scenario.

    "I don't believe in the no-win scenario."
    ~James T. Kirk - 'The Wrath of Khan'

  11. [11] 
    Michale wrote:

    that might be the case if our laws regarding legal immigration were within the bounds of reason. They're not. Some people who want to immigrate legally from mexico have waited 20 years. that means if your wife is pregnant, by the time you are allowed to come to the US, your kid is an adult and can't come with you. It's a no-win scenario, and for argument's sake let's just say that some people don't believe in the no-win scenario.

    "I don't believe in the no-win scenario."
    ~James T. Kirk - 'The Wrath of Khan'

    Nice... :D

    As I indicated, I concede the point that our immigration laws definitely are in need of overhaul.

    That point is not in contention..

    But I am sure you would agree that we should make every effort to insure quality over quantity.

    No??

    Michale

  12. [12] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    But I am sure you would agree that we should make every effort to insure quality over quantity.

    who gets to decide what quality is? when the test is a kobayashi maru type scenario, how can quality be determined based only on which individuals cheat? in such a scenario, the best (leaders and pioneers) and the worst (thugs and kingpins) behave the same.

  13. [13] 
    Michale wrote:

    who gets to decide what quality is?

    The same people who decide everything of this nature.

    Our elected representatives..

    And if we the people don't like their decisions, we fire them...

    when the test is a kobayashi maru type scenario, how can quality be determined based only on which individuals cheat?

    You sure know how to talk to me!! :D

    I have no answer for that at this time..

    I'll let it percolate a bit and see what comes to me..

    Michale

  14. [14] 
    Michale wrote:

    I have no answer for that at this time..

    Other than to ask.. Why should we allow every Tom, Dick and Harry into this country??

    Who died and made the United States Of America the world's welfare agency..

    I mean, the vast majority of desirable countries have immigration laws that put the needs of the country first..

    Why should the US be any different??

    Wouldn't you agree that simply having open borders is a bad idea, especially with the security climate of the here and now??

    I agree with you that our rules need overhauling.

    But the Democrats way of "Ya'all come!!" is simply not logical and is solely and completely based on a political/partisan agenda with absolutely NO REGARD for the security ramifications...

    Michale

  15. [15] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Other than to ask.. Why should we allow every Tom, Dick and Harry into this country??

    obviously, everyone who wants to immigrate should be vetted through some process to determine if they're going to be responsible citizens. i absolutely agree with your security concerns - nobody should be coming illegally, especially post-9/11.

    however, the wait time for that process needs to be something reasonable like maybe 2 years tops (certainly not 20!). and it shouldn't discriminate against people from countries like mexico that have more people who want to immigrate (or who already have, illegally). people won't be willing to self-deport unless they have some assurance that they will have a chance to be legal within a year or two.

    You sure know how to talk to me!! :D

    i try ;)

  16. [16] 
    Michale wrote:

    obviously, everyone who wants to immigrate should be vetted through some process to determine if they're going to be responsible citizens. i absolutely agree with your security concerns - nobody should be coming illegally, especially post-9/11.

    Agreed...

    however, the wait time for that process needs to be something reasonable like maybe 2 years tops (certainly not 20!). and it shouldn't discriminate against people from countries like mexico that have more people who want to immigrate (or who already have, illegally). people won't be willing to self-deport unless they have some assurance that they will have a chance to be legal within a year or two.

    Again, I agree. The laws need changing..

    But would you agree that our first and foremost consideration should be the needs of THIS country, as opposed to the needs of the immigrant??

    Or worse yet, the needs of a particular Political Party??

    Michale

  17. [17] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    Can you provide context for that Boxer quote? What year, for instance, is it from? What bill was under discussion at the time?

    Since you love facts so much, how about that CBO report? Savings of $200 billion in first decade, $700 billion in second, to federal budget. Short-term disruptions in labor market, limited to a few years, after which improving conditions from there on out. Short pain, long-term gain. What's not to like? The CBO is non-partisan, so as a professed independent, you should respect their figures, right?

    To throw a curve ball in here, what do you think of the difference between all immigrants and Cubans? You're from Florida, so I assume you have an opinion. I notice that in no part of the negotiations (that I'm aware of) has this issue even been raised. So what do you think of "wet feet/dry feet"? I'm not asking this as any sort of trap or zinger, just curious as to how you see this living where you do. I was actually surprised that the issue didn't even come up for discussion in the whole Gang of 8 thing, personally.

    I actually have major problems with the H-1B visa program, after coming into contact (and working with) plenty of H-1Bs in Silicon Valley. The rules were insane -- you had to get the visa through the company that hired you, but then once you got it you could not change jobs -- if you did, you had to start the process all over again. This did indeed depress wages, because it created a sort of "indentured servant" class in high-tech companies, who couldn't bargain on the open market for the true price of their services. But that's a whole 'nother issue...

    Also, I have to say that while I found it offensive, I also had to laugh at your phrase "undocumented Democrats," just because it was indeed funny. So, while in total disagreement in general, credit where it's due.

    nypoet22 -

    Oh, SNAP! [do people even say that anymore?]

    Quoting James Tiberius Kirk to Michale is the ultimate petard-hoisting, in my opinion. Well done!

    :-)

    Ok, here's my contribution to the conversation:

    Sheldon: I see. You’re saying I’m facing Starfleet Academy’s unwinnable command scenario, the Kobayashi Maru.

    Penny: Exactly. Sometimes you can’t win.

    Sheldon: Captain Kirk won.

    Penny: Kirk cheated.

    Sheldon: Impressive that you know that. It’s hard to believe I’m actually having this conversation with you.

    Penny: Right there with you.

    [-- from "The Big Bang Theory"...]

    Michale [14] -

    Except that that's pretty much where America was for approximately our first century and a half. Immigration was almost completely wide-open, then we started barring people we didn't like (look up "Chinese Exclusion Act" for a good example), and eventually we got where we are now. But, for instance, in WWII, we absolutely needed the braceros to get the harvest in. Immigration is not as cut and dried as some now would have you believe. The limits are what is modern, and not where we began as a country. Just had to toss that out there.

    Michale and nypoet22 -

    So what do you think of, instead of freakin' DOUBLING the size of the Border Patrol (already our biggest federal police force), putting the same money to good use to hiring agents at ICE, and cutting down the backlog to 2 years instead of 20? Still haven't heard that proposed by anyone in Washington -- the backlog is there because politicians refuse to spend the money on the problem that it so obviously deserves.

    Remember, my wife's been through the process. We were almost at the front of the line (minor children of adults were ahead of spouses), so we only had to wait three years to get a single response to the 100-150 page application we turned in. That is lightning speed compared to many, because spouses are at the front of the line.

    Imagine how you'd feel if you went to the DMV to renew your driver's license and they told you that you'd get your new license in three years. Just imagine that for one second. To say nothing of "20 years"...

    -CW

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