This Week in Immigration Reform: Ups and Downs

Last week was a big one for immigration reform, so let’s get to it. The House’s Gang of Seven is now the Gang of FiveTexas GOP Reps. Sam Johnson and John Carter left the group, which was long expected to introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill, saying, “The bottom line is—the American people do not trust the president to enforce laws, and we don’t either.” 

Though piecemeal bills still seem the most realistic way to get reform passed through the House, comprehensive reform might not be dead yet. Politico reports “House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is spearheading a plan to advance comprehensive immigration reform in the chamber…[her] strategy includes introducing legislation combining the comprehensive bill that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in May with a bipartisan border security bill from the House Homeland Security Committee.”

At the same time Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Filemon Vela (D-TX) have their own comprehensive reform package; the two introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2013 on Friday. 

September 15 marked the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, and the Republican Party is taking the opportunity to reach out to Hispanics and Latinos. Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus set the tone in an opinion piece for the National Review, telling GOP politicians, “If you’re not engaging with the Hispanic community, you better get to work.” House Republicans are also working on a campaign, including an outreach video targeting Latino voters. However, it failed to mention immigration reform.

Despite ample reasons for skepticism, there were several developments toward reform last week.  For one, House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte remains committed to reform; his committee is formulating four additional immigration-related bills. On the potential for DREAMers, Goodlatte seemed to lighten up, saying “I wouldn’t give them a special pathway to citizenship, I would give them an earned pathway to citizenship.” The Kids Act, though, still lacks a sponsorTexas Democrat Henry Cuellar is reaching across the aisle on reform, scheduling a meeting with Goodlatte “to discuss the residency/citizenship issue.”

In addition, in a bipartisan effort, Candice Miller (R-MI) and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) introduced the Biometric Exit Improvement Act of 2013 (H.R. 3141), a key improvement to border security. 

In a Tuesday interview with Telemundo, President Obama signaled he is willing to sign a set of piecemeal immigration bills, so long as critical components such as a pathway to citizenship are included. Obama also reiterated the Senate’s comprehensive bill would pass if Speaker John Boehner brought it to vote and that he would not extend the Deferred Action program to all unauthorized immigrants. The latter point remains contentious among advocates and congressional leaders and drew protesters to the White House Wednesday.

Several events kept the focus on the issue of citizenship this week. Tuesday was National Citizenship Day, and “House Democrats held a special order session… where they took to the floor to speak about the economic and moral benefits of passing immigration reform with a path to citizenship.” Reps. Tony Cardenas (D-CA) and Matt Cartwright (D-PA) wrote an opinion piece for The Hill on the same topic.  This push will continue, with advocates announcing their plans for an October 8 citizenship rally, called the March for Immigrant Dignity and Respect, on the National Mall.

Many state and local leaders continue to back reform. Leaders across the country, from Utah’s higher education system, to the Norristown, PA Municipal Council (a town of 35,000), to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, are asking the federal government to pass immigration reform. California and Arizona, two immigration legislation hot spots remain in the news; while Arizona continues efforts to restrict driver’s licenses for DACA youth, California approved a suite of bills expanding the rights of non-citizens.