Conventional wisdom says there will be no movement on immigration reform this year, as the president drops hints he will move to unilaterally alter deportation rules. (Is there any law he executes as written?) Here are ten reasons why the House still might act before the year is out:
1. If the president does move unilaterally, the House will have an incentive to pass a bill on enforcement, in essence telling the president to follow the law and providing additional resources for border enforcement and visa overstay detection. At that point other provisions, including treatment of those affected by the DREAM Act, may come forward.
2. The Democrats have all but given up on a pathway to citizenship, removing a prime objection of many House Republican hardliners. Democrats realize they may lose the Senate and this is the final chance to make good on their promise to Hispanic voters. At this point, the House has the leverage.
3. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), in mocking his members’ reticence to move forward, was speaking honestly. Even though the vast majority of Republicans are in safe seats, they are cowed by anti-immigration voices. That said, the pressure to do something, even if it is not as comprehensive as previously contemplated, will increase if leadership, donors and pro-reform constituents turn up the heat
4. After GOP primaries are in the rear view mirror, but before the general election, there may be breathing space for nervous Republicans. After getting by any challenges from the right, they may feel less intimidated. Likewise, loud third-party groups whose candidates bomb in the primaries may be less confident about threatening incumbents.
5. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s remarks about immigrants brought yelps from the usual quarters, but it also brought encouragement from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). It was a reminder that pro-immigration forces have some unassailably conservative advocates.
6. The House has free rein to pass whatever it likes. It need not match the Senate bill or even contain all the elements. It is doubtful that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would want to take up any bill passed by the House, for fear of exposing his own members to hard votes. Therefore, Republicans can carve out a position that is rock solid on enforcement, without worrying if the Senate will pass it. In essence, they have a free pass to get out from under the anti-immigrant label Democrats would affix to them.
7. The Democrats are plainly going to run in 2016 on a vicious negative message: Republican are anti-minority, anti-women, anti-poor people. It would be very helpful for Republicans to be able to say they passed immigration reform in both houses.
8. The argument that Hispanics are permanently Democratic is and will be challenged by a fleet of presidential candidates all saying they can expand the base of the party. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other Republicans who can’t be labeled as squishes think it can be done. Who, then, are House Republicans (the most conservative of whom generally have the fewest minority constituents) to say it would be a political loser for Republicans to begin legalizing Hispanics, a portion of which, many years down the road, may become voters?
9. It is actually good, pro-growth policy to get more high-skilled workers into the country and fix legal immigration. It is smart national security to get control of our visa system and borders. It helps domestic workers to legalize those without authorization because employers can no longer exploit them by paying sub-minimum wage (undercutting legal workers). And it is good budget policy to bring illegal immigrants into the federal tax system.
10. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), as he ascends to House Ways and Means, will hold more and more sway with fellow Republicans. He, too, wants a conservative immigration bill and has the incentive to prove he can legislate outside purely budgetary matters.