The Avenue

This Week in Immigration Reform: Senate Passage, Questions in the House

Nicole Prchal Svajlenka

Last Thursday, the Senate passed S.744, the “Gang of Eight’s” comprehensive immigration reform bill. Though not quite the 70 votes some of the bill’s authors hoped for, the bill passed 68-32

The week was full of affirmative votes that set the stage for passage, including the adoption of the “border surge” amendment. A major test for advocates, the amendment cost the bill support from some groups who fear sending the House of Representatives an already conservative starting point that the Republican-controlled chamber will only expand upon.

One of the most contentious issues introduced (and ultimately withdrawn) by Sen. Pat Leahy in the Senate Judiciary Committee was enshrining the rights of married binational gay couples. Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) did just that, with the first green card issued Friday.    

Now the real work in the House of Representatives begins.

What are the options for immigration reform in the House? Piecemeal versus comprehensive legislation is still an issue. Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s House Judiciary Committee approved four piecemeal immigration bills, including last week’s high-skilled immigration and worksite-enforcement E-Verify bills. There are procedural questions moving forward, too. Will there be enough common ground to merge the bills in a Senate-House conference? Or could a discharge petition do the trick? We will know more after July 10, when “a hobbled, divided and raucous House Republican Conference will meet in the Capitol basement to figure out how to address the Senate-passed bill.” 

Speaker John Boehner is sticking with the Hastert Rule (requiring support of the majority of the majority caucus), and it looks like the Senate Republican votes for S.744 did little to sway House GOP members.  According to Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), “We have a minority of the minority in the Senate voting for this bill.  That’s not going to put a lot of pressure on the majority of the majority in the House.”

Two Florida Republicans who support reform, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are frank about the tough road ahead. Advocacy, business, and religious groups are taking note and making sure their support is heard.

The House’s moves on immigration were a hot ticket on the Sunday talk shows. On CNN’s State of the Union, Rep. Bob Goodlatte refuted citizenship for undocumented immigrants. On Fox News Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer remained confident of House passage, Sen. Jon McCain discussed Speaker John Boehner’s role, and Rep. Trey Gowdy, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration chair, repeated the mantra that the Senate bill will not pass the House.  On NBC’s Meet the Press Rep. Nancy Pelosi echoed Sen. Schumer, saying she is “very optimistic that we will—before too long and certainly this year—have comprehensive immigration reform.”

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