For this first time since the Reagan administration, the political stars may have aligned in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.
When the House and Senate were able to manage a two-year budget agreement at the end of 2013, they made a start at resolving Congress’s paralyzing gridlock.
House Speaker John Boehner hired Rebecca Tallent on Dec. 4 to work on immigration reform in the U.S. House of Representatives. She came from the Bipartisan Policy Center, where she was the director of immigration policy. Boehner’s choice of such a prominent figure shows he is optimistic about the prospects for crafting a solution to the problems facing America’s immigration system.
“Our work at the Bipartisan Policy Center demonstrates that it’s possible to develop immigration policy that addresses the interests of conservative Republicans, reform advocates and everyone in between. Speaker Boehner’s choice to hire Becky is affirmation of his strong desire to move legislation in 2014,” stated Haley Barbour, former governor of Mississippi and co-chair of BPC’s Immigration Task Force, in a BPC news release.
Debate in the House over the past year focused on tightening border security and enforcement at the expense of other issues. The House passed multiple piecemeal border security and enforcement bills and refused to vote on the Senate’s Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.
When Boehner criticized the far-right members of the House for their unwillingness to compromise during the budget negotiations of 2013, he indicated a return to more traditional, business-friendly conservatism. It suggests that the House may be able to consider how immigration reform can benefit business and the economy, as well as undocumented immigrants and their families.
The issues and conflicts of 2014 are similar to those in 1986, when Reagan signed his Immigration Reform and Control Act. Reagan’s bill made immigrants who had entered the country by 1982 eligible for amnesty, but it did not create legal channels for immigration that were wide enough to handle America’s need for labor, according to the American Immigration Council. That’s why new legislation is needed today.
11 Million People
That is also why the population of unauthorized immigrants has grown to an estimated 11 million people. It has caused a humanitarian crisis. Thousands of migrants have died attempting to cross into America from Mexico.
These are the issues: Agriculture and other industries need a stable, affordable labor force. It’s wasteful to tell the many foreign students who come to America to take their talents elsewhere after graduation. Current immigration policy can separate families for years.
It’s not yet clear what form immigration policy reform will take, but this is the first time in many years it has appeared possible.
Columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote in the Washington Post, “The president has already signaled that a series of bills as opposed to one large bill would be acceptable. The critical issues will boil down to the requirements for legalization and the nature of the legal status (citizenship, citizenship with no “special path,” green card status, etc.) will take.”