November 7, 2013
John Boehner (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) John Boehner (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

In what will be seen as another blow to immigration reform’s chances, a top pro-reform Republican in the House concedes House Republicans are not going to act on immigration reform this year, and he worries that the window for getting anything done next year is closing fast.

“We have very few days available on the floor in the House, so I don’t think we’re going to be able to do it this year,” GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida told me by phone today.

Diaz-Balart has been deeply involved in bipartisan negotiations over immigration for years now, and is thought to be in touch with House GOP leaders on the issue, so folks involved in the immigration debate pay close attention to what he says.

Worse, Diaz-Balart said that if something were not done early next year — by February or March, before GOP primaries heat up — reform is dead for the foreseeable future.

“I’m hopeful that we can get to it early next year,” he said. “But I am keenly aware that next year, you start running into the election cycle. If we cannot get it done by early next year, then it’s clearly dead. It flatlines.”

Reformers on both sides have been pushing for action this year. Three House Republicans have urged the leadership to allow a vote on something, and House Democrats have introduced their own proposal. GOP leaders have not scheduled a vote on reform this year, but they haven’t ruled one out.

Even some Republicans have ripped the GOP leadership’s foot dragging. GOP Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada recently said it would be “disappointing” if leaders were to “punt the issue until 2014 for political reasons”

Now Diaz-Balart says a vote this year isn’t going to happen. This matters because he is one of the key Republicans who is negotiating over a piecemeal proposal to do something about the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. This proposal has yet to be released, but the Tea Leaves suggest it will include probation for the 11 million, enabling them to work legally, contingent on getting E-Verify running (if it isn’t after five years, those on probation would revert to illegal status). This idea, which was in the now-defunct House Gang of Seven plan, is seen as one of the few ways Republicans might be able to support reform that deals with the 11 million.

Diaz-Balart said those working on a proposal for the 11 million were making “great progress.” In a note of optimism, he predicted he might be able to get more than half the GOP caucus to support it, though he said it would have to be “bipartisan” to succeed, and allowed that getting both Republican and Democratic support for it would amount to “threading the needle.”

There are other ways reform might get done. For instance, GOP leaders could allow piecemeal votes on border security and the Kids Act — which is supported by Eric Cantor and would give citizenship only to the DREAMers. That could conceivably lead to negotiations between the House and Senate, but conservatives will resist that outcome, and it’s a long shot. Nor is there any sign GOP leaders will hold any such votes this year, either.

As for the proposal for the 11 million Diaz-Balart is working on, it now looks like it won’t be introduced until early next year. And Diaz-Balart cautioned that it — and/or reform in general — had to be acted on right away to have any chance. “That window is definitely closing,” he said.

Indeed, the Congressman’s comments read like a bit of a wake-up call: The House GOP is now at serious risk of killing immigration reform for the foreseeable future.  How many Republicans care, of course, is another question entirely.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.