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  • Article: 2014: The Year of Immigration Reform by Victor Johnson

    2014: The Year of Immigration Reform

    by Victor C Johnson

    On November 9, 2012, three days after President Obama’s re-election with the massive support of Hispanics and other immigrant communities, I posted on this blog an analysis of the meaning of the election and its implications for immigration reform. I said that the election would occasion a titanic struggle in the Republican Party between those who wanted to double down on far-right ideological positions and those who understood that the party had to broaden its appeal to immigrants and others who supported the president (women, minorities) if it hoped to remain competitive in national elections. I said that immigration reform would be one of the venues for this struggle, and I said, “The Republican Party will abandon its anti-immigration posture on the day it decides that anti-immigration no longer works for it politically.”

    There is reason to believe that day will come soon, if it is not already here. Speaker Boehner and other Republican leaders seem to have concluded that the party must deliver on immigration reform. It also appears that the Speaker is finally fed up with his extremist wing and is no longer prepared to give it an automatic veto over actions that he considers to be in the party’s long-term interest.

    Unfortunately, the Speaker must operate from the corner that the party has painted itself into with its frequent declarations over the past year that it would not deal with the subject comprehensively, would not go to conference with the Senate bill, and would not create a “special path to citizenship.” Designed to assuage the tea party, these commitments now constrain what the Speaker can do. We thus likely face a series of “piecemeal” (not comprehensive) bills, which the House will pass (or try to) and then “negotiate” (not conference) with the Senate, and which will contain paths to citizenship that are not “special.” But, inconvenient as this approach might be, it can still accomplish the essential elements of reform, given the will.

    2014: The Year of Immigration Reform. We’re Not Giving Up. Take action today!

    So, is immigration reform now inevitable? Nothing is inevitable in politics until it happens. Our movement has been essential in opening this door to possible Republican engagement. But we still need to push them through it. Fortunately, the immigration-reform community is ready to step up its game yet again in 2014. That is why I believe that prospects for immigration reform this year are good.

    As we gear up for this debate, we will read many learned analyses to the effect that the House will not act until after the Republican primaries, or after the November elections, or after this or after that. These analyses may well be correct—but we must not act as if they were. In a year-end conference call with the community, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi stressed how important it is to keep demanding reform now—not next month or at the end of the year. Let the analysts do their analyses. Our job is to keep the pressure on every day, to create the expectation every week that next week will be the week we succeed, to confront the House with the reality that the votes to pass immigration reform are there right now if they will only permit a vote. Constant pressure is how we helped move the party to the point where they are seriously talking about getting this done; constant pressure is what is needed going forward.

    We cannot let ourselves be discouraged by the fact that we called for reform by the end of last year, and we did not get it. Understand this about deadlines:  Deadlines are action-forcing mechanisms. We set them in order to apply pressure for the actors to act. Deadlines are for our convenience—part of our strategy. And they work. Last year we got a Senate bill, and we moved the heretofore unmovable House Republican Party to the point where it seems ready to deal. These are great victories. Far from being discouraged, we should celebrate them—and then set the next deadline, and keep the pressure on. If we do—and I know we will—I am more confident than ever that we will win.

    In his wrap-up column for 2013, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne argues that the most important political development of the year is that “the tea party began to decline in both real and perceived power, and Republicans began a slow retreat from the politics of absolutism.” He then says:

    The bottling-up of immigration reform in the House is the most obvious case of how internal GOP forces have prevented a congressional majority from working its will. The test of how much Republicans have freed themselves from the tea party’s sway will be whether Boehner decides [in 2014] to act on an issue he knows is in the interest of his party to deal with.

    I believe he will. The question is: Will the result adequately address the major issues of comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for the undocumented? Our job is to work harder than ever to be sure that it does.

    Find out what the Connecting Our World community accomplished in 2013.


    About The Author

    Vic Johnson is NAFSA’s senior adviser for public policy. He spent 20 years in senior foreign affairs positions in Washington, DC, including a long stint as staff director of the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs. Vic served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia and later served as director of the Peace Corps programs in Latin America and the Caribbean during the Clinton Administration. He is also chairman of the board of directors of the Washington Office on Latin America.


    The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.
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