CIR in 2013? Threading the Needle May Be Harder Than You Think.

by Robert Webber

I believe it was a carpenter from Palestine who first said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the Elephants and Donkeys to pass a bill on immigration reform. After reading some concern from (see January 21, 2013 – and a January 16, 2013, story in National Journal ( cited favorably by Greg Siskind, I thought I might share my view.

The conventional wisdom is that (1) the Republicans got crushed in the November 2012 election, in large part because the fastest growing part of the electorate, Latinos, voted in large numbers for Barack Obama. The conventional wisdom is that (2) this group, Latinos, voted for Barack Obama because of the restrictionist immigration policy views of the GOP. Thus, the conventional wisdom is that (3) the GOP will change its tune on immigration, particularly on some kind of legislation that allows those in the country without a valid visa status to obtain a valid visa status and potentially U.S. citizenship. That ‘fix’ is generally what people mean when they use the term CIR (Comprehensive Immigration Reform). The conventional wisdom is that (4) if the GOP changes its tune on immigration, it will be rewarded by more Latino votes because Latino voters have sympathies to other GOP policies, like perhaps abortion. Of course, notwithstanding the fact Mitt Romney was shellacked by Barack Obama, John Boehner managed to retain a relatively healthy GOP majority of seats in the House of Representatives (query whether this fact challenges any of the aforementioned conventional wisdom).

There is definitely a lot of discussion that serves as the basis of the above-mentioned conventional wisdom – on all of the points above. You can read the stories daily at or through AILA’s daily news feed. For those of us who follow immigration law and policy closely, the number of high profile Republicans who appear to have changed their tune on CIR is striking. But here is the thing – in order for CIR to pass, it requires a certain mismatch in underlying assumptions. Specifically, if we assume that each political party is motivated by its ability to be re-elected and grow its percentage of seats held in Congress, and we also accept the conventional wisdom, particularly point (4) above that the GOP will be rewarded with more Latino votes if it changes its tune on immigration, then it does make sense that the GOP will try to make a deal on CIR and move ahead and be ‘rewarded’ with additional votes from the Latino community. However, if we make the same assumption for Democrats, that is, that they are motivated by their ability to be re-elected and grow their percentage of seats held in Congress, then why on earth would they agree to a deal on CIR? Why would they want to give the GOP more votes? Wouldn’t it be much better for the Democrats to make ‘courageous’ efforts at CIR but fail? Politics ain’t bean-bag; so it does not seem to make sense that the Democrats would ‘give away’ their advantage with Latinos by finding agreement with the GOP on CIR. Based on the assumption that the Democrats (like the GOP) are motivated by re-election and growing their share of seats, it would make much more sense for them to ‘try’ for a deal and fail and then blame the GOP in 2014 and try to wipe out the Boehner majority with the argument: “If you give us the House in 2014, we will finally get CIR. We really promise this time.”

OK – but maybe that is too cynical – maybe political parties and office holders are motivated by principle and want to push forward an agenda based on their principles. If that is true, then the Democrats would want a deal because they believe CIR is good policy. They would want to fulfill their campaign promises and go into 2014 and 2016 as a victory lap for their success; but if that is true, that is, if political parties are motivated by principle and their views of sound policy, then the GOP would not/not want a deal because they believe CIR is bad policy. That is what many high profile Republicans have been saying for years, including the most recently shellacked GOP Presidential candidate. Until very recently, with the possible exception of George W. Bush, you have not heard GOP officeholders saying ‘we need CIR because it is good policy’; rather, you hear GOP officeholders and the conservative chattering class saying ‘we need CIR so we can get some Latino votes.’

So apparently to get CIR in 2013, with a divided Congress, we need to thread the needle – with Democrats being motivated by their principles and their view of sound policy and Republicans being motivated by the conventional wisdom on political gain. But perhaps this view – that Democrats are noble and principled and Republicans are self-serving political hacks is just epic confirmation bias. I guess we will know in the next few months.

About The Author

Robert Webber is the Principal Attorney at Webber Law Firm, LLC. He limits his practice to employment-based and family-based immigration law matters. Bob graduated from Wheaton College (Wheaton, IL) with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, and earned his law degree at William Mitchell College of Law (St. Paul, MN). Bob is licensed to practice law by the Supreme Court of Minnesota and because immigration law is federal law, he is permitted to represent clients throughout the United States and worldwide on U.S. immigration law matters.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) alone and should not be imputed to ILW.COM.