Rob Horowitz: Tough Fight Coming On Immigration Reform

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


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In the wake of comprehensive immigration reform passing the US Senate by an impressive 68-32 margin with broad bi-partisan support, former President George W. Bush voiced his support at a well-publicized naturalization ceremony, the kick-off event for the new George W. Bush Institute conducted in Dallas last week. Bush, who as President attempted to advance his own comprehensive immigration reform proposal, said, "I don't intend to get involved in the politics or the specifics of policy, but I do hope there's a positive resolution to the debate. And I hope, during the debate, we keep a benevolent spirit in mind, and we understand the contributions immigrants make to our country." As national Republican strategists note, Bush performed significantly better with Latino voters than Mitt Romney, receiving more than 40% of the Latino vote in his re-election victory in 2004, as opposed to Romney’s dismal 27%. Their contrasting positions on immigration reform were a significant contributing factor to that large differential.

Of course, it was too much to expect that President Bush’s words would sway the strong opposition of a good number of the members of his own party in the House to the legislation that has passed the Senate, many of whom are vociferously opposed to any path to citizenship for the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants already living in the country. That became immediately clear at a meeting of the House Republican Caucus dedicated to immigration which took place soon after Bush’s speech. As anti-immigration reform leader Representative Steve King (R-IA) said the next morning on CBS in referring to undocumented immigrants,. “They came here to live in the shadows. They had to expect they were going to live in the shadows."

Along with the hard line opponents in the House, however, there are also many Republican members who would like to see immigration reform proceed and grasp the political risks of being blamed for its failure. Fortunately, these proponents include Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and the rest of the House Republican leadership team. While Speaker Boehner dashed the fond wishes of immigration reform advocates by ruling out simply bringing the recently adopted Senate bill up for a vote, he also indicated he understood the need for action on immigration reform. “We’ve got a broken system, it needs to be fixed, and I made a strong case yesterday that it needs to be fixed and the Republicans ought to be part of the solution,” Boehner said. “It’s always in the party’s best interest when we’re doing the right thing for the country.” The Speaker even held out hope that a path to citizenship would be considered saying, “we’re going to find out” if the House can back some sort of a citizenship or legalization proposal.

The recently adopted Senate bill aims to fix our broken immigration system by paving the way for the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants already here to emerge from the shadows and fully participate in American life, opening up our doors more widely through expanded legal immigration targeted to attract the world’s best and brightest, and stepping up enforcement to prevent future illegal immigration. More specifically, it creates a tough, but achievable path to citizenship. It offers sensible interim steps, permitting undocumented immigrants already here in the nation to immediately emerge from the shadows. It also expands the number of visas available for highly skilled workers while providing them with a smoother path to permanent residency, steps up enforcement, and tightens border security.

As best we can tell, it appears that the Senate bill’s component parts will be broken up and considered separately as well as modified in the House. The result is likely a tough and lengthy battle —a fight made much more difficult by the fact that Speaker Boehner has indicated that he will adopt the Hastert rule in this instance and only move to the floor for a vote measures that have the support of a majority of Republicans.

It will be up to the advocates of immigration reform, which include many national Republicans and the Chamber of Commerce, to engage in an aggressive district by district campaign to move Republican House members on the fence into the pro-immigration reform column. Republican sponsors of the Senate Bill, such as Marco Rubio (R-FL) and John McCain (R-AZ) must keep up their strong national advocacy. Comprehensive immigration reform is with-in our grasp, but there is much hard work ahead.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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