Immigration Reform 2013 Status, The House

Immigration Reform 2013 Status


I wanted to give you quick overview of where we are as of today in the immigration reform effort. As you know the comprehensive immigration bill labeled S.744 was passed by Senate, and the voting in the Senate reflected what kind of support there is generally amongst the two parties (Senate and House of Republicans (House)) for this reform effort.


The composition of the Senate is currently 54 Democrats, one Independent and 45 Republicans. A total of 100 Senators. When the bill was voted upon, it was passed 68 to32. All Democrats voted for it, one Independent voted for it, but only 13 Republicans in the Senate voted for the bill. So less than one third (of Republicans voted for passage).  This means that Democrats overwhelmingly support the reform, the immigration bill S. 744. But Republicans are not by any means, or in any way shape or form overwhelmingly or even in a majority in favor of the reform as it was proposed.


So, now bill has been passed the Senate. 68 to 32. It’s a good margin, but the problem situation in the House is totally different. The politics of the situation is that the Latino, Hispanic vote is becoming in proportion much larger. It is exponentially expanding. The Republicans leaders rightly believe that they must curry favor or must be considered a friend to the Hispanic industry of immigration. A lot of Republicans also believe that they have no incentive to pass an amnesty bill. One thing I would say that as far as reform of the legal immigration is concerned I don't think we have too much controversy about that. Both parties agreed that certain things need to be done, like we need skilled immigration professional. Special provisions for PhDs, physicians, people who have Master’s degrees, people with STEM degrees. We need all that and some way to remove the backlog, which is horrendous for many countries. For instance, India has nine to ten years of backlog waiting for a Green Card. So there is consensus among both parties on legal immigration. It is the amnesty part, the enforcement and border protection, which are the key areas of disagreement.


If you look on the Republicans composition, only 24 out of 234 House Republicans represent districts that have any appreciable numbers of Hispanic voters, more than 25 percent. So, only 24 out of 234. Where is the incentive for them to pass an immigration bill with amnesty? In fact, many of the Republicans come from districts that actually oppose amnesty. Republican Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) was speaking in Lynchburg, Virginia yesterday and passions were really running high against the amnesty.


So in the House even if Democrats all get together, the problem is how do we move the reform forward. House is controlled by Republicans, 234 to 201. House Speaker, John Boehner (R-OH) has said that he won't bring the Senate bill up for a vote if he does not have the support of a majority of the House Republicans (known as Hastert Rule). He says, I will not even allow this Senate bill to be voted on in the House unless a majority of House Republicans support the bill. And if we look at the cross-section of the voting that occurred in Senate, less than one third of Republicans support. It’s not good sign to get that kind of support.


So, it appears at least at this stage that the Senate bill will have very tough time going through the House as today’s politics stand.    


What are the options?


Four obvious options, the fourth option is very unlikely, which is House leadership brings up the the Senate bill up for vote.


There are four options, but again it’s important to understand what happens if there are two separate bills addressing some of the same areas or all of the same areas, and there are controversies among those bills, then it goes into something called “conference”. When we get into conference, the idea is representatives from Senate and the representative from House will meet together and they will iron out their differences. A lot of times if you want to effect the Senate bill, all you have to do is pass something in the House and then it goes into the conference where you can work on one bill or the other, agree, negotiate and then take the negotiated version back to both chambers for voting Senate and House. So, option number one is House passes its own bill or bills. Actually, here we are talking about comprehensive, some kind of comprehensive set of bills, then it goes for conference. Option two, the House passes any bill, it does not have to be comprehensive bill, something that effects or contradicts the Senate version again we go into conference.


Another interesting option and normally this would not be a really good option but here may be worth considering. I doubt it, but I am not a political pundit just a lawyer. House can actually vote on the Senate bill without the House Speaker’s support. If 218 house members vote for a discharge petition, which means we don’t care what the Speaker says, we are going to vote on this bill anyway. That means House Democrats need 17 votes from Republicans to get a discharge petition and vote on the Senate bill.


So, what are the four options again:


1. Comprehensive bill by House;


2. Any bill by House;


3. Discharge petition; and


4. House leadership brings up the Senate bill to vote which is unlikely.


Let us talk about a comprehensive bill. House had its own “Gang of Eight” people working on a comprehensive immigration bill. Their focus was a lot more on enforcement, on border security, etc. But then one of the Congressman, Raul Labrador (R-ID), quit. The now “Gang of Seven” still might produce a comprehensive House bill. If such a bill is produced, we will get into conference, negotiate and then finally vote on the negotiated bill. So number one is Comprehensive bill.


Number two is any bill. As I mentioned Rep. Goodlatte from Virginia, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has produced a series of immigration related bills. House Democrats do not like it because it’s a piecemeal approach and there are all kinds of very extreme positions taken by Bob Goodlatte that House Democrats feel are inimical or enemies of immigration reform. But one of the ways, this series of bills, could be just a device to force matters into conference. If any of these bills pass in the Republican controlled House, then we will all get into conference anyway, where we can negotiate based upon the Senate version of the bill and make changes to it and then go back with the compromise. So the passage of a series of extreme bills could be a way to force matter into conference.


Option three is a discharge petition. Discharge petition normally its considered to be very bad form. If a Republican votes for a discharge petition it’s disloyal, it’s considered to be bad form. But here, Speaker Boehner himself and many other leaders, who are perhaps more in tune with the needs of the time, have said that they want immigration reform. But it looks like there is very strong opposition from certain elements within the Republican Party, which is basically muting some of these more moderate or more aware. I would not call them moderate but more aware members of the Republican Party. So normally a Republican will not vote for a discharge petition, but here who knows. Maybe this is the choice.


The key date to watch is 10th July. On 10th July there will be conference, the House Republican conference, and they meet in the basement of the Capitol to decide how they want to move forward. So that's when we will hear about the final strategy. Once again, right now we don’t know which way House is going to go, but on 10th July we should have better idea of the direction.