Immigration Reform in 2014? 6 Reasons We’re Optimistic

As 2013 draws to a close, immigration reform prospects among both parties and both chambers of Congress are brighter than ever. Here are 6 reasons we believe that Congress can pass immigration reform legislation in 2014.

1. The two parties are closer to a deal than ever before.

This year the Senate passed its comprehensive immigration reform bill with a decisive 68-32 bipartisan majority, which included 14 Republicans. During that process the House passed 5 piecemeal bills out of committee, including a unanimous bipartisan border security bill. This fall, Democrats introduced their own bill, a combination of the Senate Judiciary Committee bill and the House border security bill, both bipartisan, as a means of moving compromise forward. That H.R. 15 bill now has over 190 Democrat cosponsors and three bold Republican cosponsors. Meanwhile, House GOP leaders like Reps Cantor and Issa have continued work on versions of a KIDS Act to address legalization.

As members continue to contemplate reaching across the aisle, the pieces of a final immigration deal are already in sight: increased border security and customs officers, an employment-verification system, a high-skilled visa system, a low-skilled visa and agriculture guest worker program, and legalization for the people already here with a path to citizenship for some or most. The debate over legalization and citizenship shows less and less open space. Hard compromises were made in S. 744 and H.R. 15. Their sponsors as well as the president have indicated they will support the House piecemeal approach to reach a compromise. Now the House has to finish its process, sit down at the table and put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

2. Bipartisan agreement on the border shows just how close we are.

Even three years ago, the U.S. southern border would have been the most heated point of debate, yet in 2013 it has been the point of greatest compromise. The Senate Gang of Eight agreed upon tough security triggers. The bipartisan House Homeland Security bill on border security was the only immigration bill to pass unanimously out of committee.

On the border, the Obama administration has given Congress a strong base to build upon. Funding for enforcement has tripled and border patrol has doubled while migration across the US-Mexico border has dropped to a net zero. Meanwhile, trade with Mexico, our third largest trading partner and second largest export market, has skyrocketed to over $500 billion in 2012. Over $1 billion worth of goods cross the US-Mexico border per day.

Senators McCain, Flake, Cornyn and other border state members have led the conversation about the real needs of the border, including increased infrastructure funding to better facilitate this trade. The Senate bill calls for more customs officers and infrastructure spending in addition to enforcement troops. The expensive “border surge” amendment has been replaced in the House, trading excessive spending on border militarization with measured spending according to the needs of DHS and the border.

3. The Republican history on immigration reform is different.

The Republican Party actually has a long national history of championing immigration reform. While in office, President Reagan and both President Bushes led efforts to pass immigration reform. Former Republican presidential nominee and veteran Senator John McCain has championed the effort for the last decade, and he along with others like Jeff Flake (R-AZ) formed the core Senate group that crafted the strong Senate bill this year.

Key Republican constituencies, including the Chamber of Commerce and business, farmers and agriculture groups, Catholics and Evangelicals, have joined these national leaders to build critical base support for immigration reform. The Americans for a Conservative Direction July poll found that 96% of Republican primary voters, arguably the strongest partisans, thought fixing the current immigration system was important: 79% of those surveyed said it is “very important” and 17% said it is “somewhat important.”

Recent developments indicate that the House GOP is engaged and working to get to a real fix for immigration this Congress. House Judiciary Committee Chariman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said last week that immigration reform would be a “top priority” in 2014. Speaker John Boehner hired Becky Tallent, John McCain’s former Chief of Staff, to work on immigration reform. Finally, Boehner’s approval of the bipartisan budget deal and criticism of conservative groups working against it opened the door for his further support to GOP members working on immigration reform. As Greg Sargent reports today, Boehner’s support of the budget deal coupled with Rep. Tom Cole’s (R-Okla.) new statement that immigration reform could get done next year gives real hope for 2014.

4. The end of the self-deportation movement has cleared the way for CIR.

A year and a half ago, the Republican Party and its presidential nominee’s solution to immigration reform was “self-deportation”—making life in the US so difficult that the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. would choose to leave. Not only was that nominee soundly defeated and ridiculed for his position, but the “Arizonification” of state laws enforcing that doctrine have also met political defeat.

Arizona’s SB 1070 and its copycats have been denounced by law enforcement, public officials, businesses, and families, and now defeated in the courts. Most of SB 1070 was ruled unconstitutional, as was its subsequent version in Arizona. The architect of that law, State Senator Russell Pearce was removed from office, and Arizona’s politics are transforming as the House delegation is majority Democrat, and Governor Jan Brewer, former SB 1070 proponent, is supporting more inclusive policies. Most recently, Alabama’s anti-immigrant HB 56 was also defeated in court. Instead, more and more states are implementing laws, such as drivers’ license measures, that support immigrants.

Self-deportation, the Conservative alternative to CIR for the last three years, has failed. The most anti-immigrant politicians recognize that the undocumented population in the U.S. will not leave, and that deporting 11 million plus people is not logistically possible, economically feasible, or desirable. The decline of the self-deportation movement means that the only way forward to address the 11 million and the market factors that brought them here is immigration reform legislation. This was an essential step in bringing Republicans to the negotiation table.

5. The immigration reform movement is more effective and politically engaged than ever before.

By all accounts it is clear that the pro-immigration reform movement is better organized than ever before. It has joined a broad national coalition of labor, Chamber of Commerce, tech, non-profit, and faith groups from all creeds. They have coordinated communication, policy, and legislative efforts to strategically address Congress, member by member and constituency by constituency. And they have better funded and better organized than the grassroots anti-immigration movement.

They have made their voices heard in Washington and in districts with advocacy meetings, letter campaigns, tv ads, rallies, protests, and sit-ins. They have drawn national attention to the moral and human face of immigration reform while also explaining how it practically affects the entire U.S. basic functioning and economy. Even approaching the holidays the movement has built momentum for 2014, with the national Fast for Families, immigrant children canvassing the Hill, and approximately 200 Hill office visits.

6. The current framework for immigration reform is good and offers much for lawmakers of both parties to sell to their constituents.

The current framework begun by in the Senate and continued in the House will grow our national economy and shrink our deficit. It will bolster national security with border patrol and interior enforcement. It will add customs agents and support infrastructure for more cross-border trade and tourism. It will create a visa system to meet the real demand of the US labor market, in vital high-skilled (tech) and low-skilled sectors (ag). It will crack down on exploitative employers and raise national wages. It will provide legalization to bring 11 million people out of the shadows and an arduous path to citizenship that does not reward those here illegally, but requires back taxes, fines, English competency, and sends people to the end of the line.

Immigration reform will test whether Congress will build a system that bolsters American productivity and global competitiveness or whether it will choose to become increasingly exclusionary to its own detriment. The CBO report on the Senate bill cannot be highlighted enough. It predicted the bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary would grow GDP by 5.4% and cut the national deficit by nearly a trillion dollars over twenty years. In a time of fiscal battles and few easy compromises over deficit reduction, as Ezra Klein said, “immigration reform is a free lunch.”

Two reports released this week from the Pew Hispanic Center and Immigration and Customs Enforcement  (ICE) further emphasize the urgency for a comprehensive legislation package. Pew’s survey determined relief from deportation is more important than a path to citizenship among Hispanic and Asian immigrants. Meanwhile ICE reported the first annual decrease in yearly deportations since President Obama took office- down 10% to 368,644- and a higher number of criminal prosecutions. The administration seems to be touting its progress, but immigration advocates have responded saying that is not enough. While they call for President Obama to expand executive authority and the DACA program for greater deportation relief, the surest way to create a long-term solution to deportations is to enact bipartisan legislation that encompasses all the pieces of a working legal immigration system. More executive action threatens to upset the hard-won reform framework compromise. It could drive Republicans already distrustful of Obama away from the table for good. 2014 is the time for the pro-reform movement to lean in and help their legislators reach a final compromise that makes it to President Obama’s desk.