Election Realigns Stars for Immigration Reform, But Significant Hurdles Remain

"[F]or all the goodwill, political momentum, and policy arguments pointing toward legislative action, a number of obstacles stand in the way of the passage of a broad, systemic immigration bill in the 113th Congress.  The first obstacle is the lack of consensus on the scope and nature of a legalization program that covers some — or most — of the nation's unauthorized immigrants.  Immigrant-rights advocates and most Democrats in Congress will almost certainly push for a broad legalization program that allows most of the nation's unauthorized immigrants to adjust to lawful permanent resident status, and places them on a pathway to citizenship over a period of time.  Employers in industries that hire large numbers of immigrant workers may also push for a broad legalization program, particularly if they are required to accept as a compromise mandatory enrollment in the federal E-Verify program, an electronic system that searches immigration and social security databases to determine whether newly hired employees are authorized to work.  On the other hand, some Republican politicians have long labeled any legalization as "amnesty" and vowed to vote against it.  Some Republicans might be willing to support a legalization program as long as it does not place newly legalized immigrants on a pathway to citizenship.  In a Politico interview, Congressman Raul Labrador (R-ID), for example, stated that the United States' immigration problem could be solved "without amnesty, without a pathway to citizenship."  The second obstacle comes from another electoral reality.  Republicans have maintained their House majority, with 233 seats in the 113th Congress.  Although House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has stated that he is "confident" that the GOP and the Democrats will be able to cut a deal on immigration, enforcement-first House Republicans remain a potent force and may be less willing to forge a compromise.  Already, several staunch conservatives have pushed back against Speaker Boehner, noting that he may be further out in front of his caucus on immigration.  On the Senate side, the Democrats and their independent allies now control 55 seats — a majority, but not one that is filibuster-proof.  Moreover, many Republicans who might otherwise be willing to endorse a legalization measure might be reluctant to do so if they fear a primary fight.  Senator Lindsey Graham, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), both face re-election in 2014.  Senator Graham's own past may serve as an object lesson for some — in 2008, he faced huge criticism in South Carolina for what critics touted as his support for "Grahamnesty."  The third set of obstacles is the narrow window of the legislative calendar.  For a bill to stand a chance of passage, it must get through Congress before House members gear up for the 2014 mid-term elections.  Most interpret that political reality to mean that a bill's best chance would be in 2013.  However, before Congress can turn to immigration reform, it must deal with the "fiscal cliff"— the potentially devastating economic consequences that will occur if a series of automatic tax increases and across-the-board budget cuts take effect as planned on January 1, 2013.  In addition, most analysts agree that once Congress has resolved the fiscal cliff issue, other types of economic legislation, especially those that are geared toward tax reform and job creation, will be the next area of focus." - Muzaffar Chishti and Claire Bergeron, Migration Policy Institute, Nov. 21, 2012.