Immigration reform has become an issue that is clearly tied to electoral politics for the Republican Party. Though Speaker John Boehner has insisted recently that immigration reform is not dead, the House is about to finish the year without progress on a topic that is a priority to Latino voters, an electorate the GOP desperately needs to woo before the next presidential race.
In fact, the House’s most visible immigration-related action was a measure to defund an Obama administration program to defer deportations of young immigrants, a vote that increased Latino animosity even though it failed to become law.
The inaction from House Republicans shows that their promises of immigration reform during the last election cycle were not legitimate. During campaigns, candidates often claim they will be delegates of the people if elected in order to increase their appeal to the electorate. In reality, these legislators act as trustees as much as possible without causing a backlash in the next election cycle. This is exactly what is happening with the current Congress: they promised to pass immigration reform in order to sway the Hispanic vote in the last elections, but after they were elected no action has been taken.
As Republicans prepare for far-right challengers in the 2014 mid-term elections, they will have to continue to oppose immigration reform. Although this will help them in the short term, the GOP may suffer in the 2016 elections if they contest immigration reform too strongly in their upcoming campaigns.
Although Congress has called for bipartisan immigration reform in the past year, Republican members of the House do not appear to be inclined to pass such a bill.
In last year’s presidential election, Mitt Romney — whose comment about “self-deportation” infuriated immigration advocates — lost the Latino vote by a 44-percentage-point margin, the largest deficit of any Republican presidential candidate since the Clinton era. Alarmed GOP leaders jump-started congressional talks toward a bipartisan immigration overhaul, and Boehner announced the time had come for Congress to act.
But the Speaker has refused to take up the Senate’s sweeping bipartisan overhaul of immigration laws, even though it would probably pass the House with Democratic support; nor are House Republicans expected to vote on their own measures any time soon.
Divisions within the House GOP have left the party at a standstill. More Republican lawmakers than ever — nearly two dozen, by some counts — support the cornerstone of an immigration overhaul, which is a path to citizenship for immigrants currently in the U.S. illegally.
This strict gatekeeping displayed by Speaker Boehner is a manifestation of the hyper-partisanship in Congress today. Because he knows that the majority party has a high chance of being rolled in a vote on the Senate immigration bill, the Speaker will not bring it to a vote.
This is yet another demonstration of the disunity in the Republican Party. “There’s just no cohesion there yet,” said Senator John McCain, who has tried to persuade Republicans to take action. “All I hope is that they realize that the issue is not going away — that we need to act on it.”
If the party continues to obstruct legislation that the American electorate wants to be passed, they will be held accountable in the next election cycle.
Last Friday, President Obama and his wife, Michelle, visited a group of activists who are staging a hunger strike in hopes of pressuring Congress to pass new immigration laws.
The “Fast for Families” protesters have given up all sustenance except water during their protest, which they hope will force legislators to take up immigration reform measures pending on Capitol Hill.
During his visit with the protesters, Obama said he appreciated the attention they were bringing to the issue, and that he was optimistic immigration reform could pass.
The President has pushed for an overhaul to the nation’s immigration system, most recently during a speech in San Francisco on Monday. He praised the fasting protesters during those remarks, saying the group was “sacrificing themselves in an effort to get Congress to act.”
This display is a demonstration of legislators acting as trustees rather than delegates, an occurrence that has been detrimental to the interests of the constituency in this instance. Congress is failing to represent its constituents, who are calling for immigration reform. By proactively requesting action from Congress, the protesters are signaling that if legislation is not passed, legislators may be held accountable in upcoming elections.
President Obama has been pushing for the changes to immigration for the past several months after a bipartisan Senate plan failed to gain traction in the Republican-controlled House. The measure calls for an eventual pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the United States while ramping up border security measures.
Some Republicans in Congress have vowed to oppose the bill because they believe it amounts to amnesty for the illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States. House Speaker John Boehner has suggested that he will bring up immigration reform measures piecemeal, rather than in a comprehensive bill.
Although immigration reform is dead this year, many reform advocates are still campaigning to promote legislative action on the issue. In class, we discussed three different types of groups that attempt to lobby congress: business groups, citizens groups, and governmental groups. All three lobby groups have been very active throughout the immigration reform debate. However, which group will have the most influence on Congress and push them to create reform?
Business groups have been speaking directly to members of Congress to convince Republican lawmakers to support a reform bill by talking about the economic benefits. Businesses depend on immigrants to bring cheap labor and innovation to the U.S. economy. In early November, Obama asked big businesses to help him develop strategies to encourage resistant lawmakers to pursue reform. Even the President noticed the potential influence that businesses have over the reform debate. However, this business lobby also has drawbacks. Even though businesses and Republican members of Congress share some of the same free market beliefs, the social beliefs between the two groups creates a divide. In response to some of the lobbying attempts from big business, Republican politicians such as Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions have publicly condemned business for their stance by saying “America is not an oligarchy” and that loose immigration reform is not the best move for our economy. Could a group with economic, national, and social interest better convince Republicans in Congress?
Citizen lobbying groups have the potential to address these concerns. There is a diverse coalition of citizens groups working to convince Congress to pick up immigration reform. Reform is supported by religious groups, social activists, ethnic rights groups, and many other organizations across the nation. Citizen reform groups have been promoting reform using mostly outside lobbying tactics such as fasting for media attention and voicing their concerns about the need for immigration reform. Citizen groups hope to attract the attention of their representatives who will then respond by pursuing legislation. This is a good strategy because legislators are often very willing to listen to their constituents when concerned about their political seat. However, the citizen’s movement for reform is spread out across the country and may not be effective in districts where incumbents have strong support. Could the last form of lobbying group make the difference?
Government lobbying groups could also impact how Congress approaches immigration reform. Governmental groups could have more sway over Congress because of their influence on the function of government. However, there has not been much support for immigration by government lobbying groups. In fact, large groups such as the union representing the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency have spoken out against immigration reform. Head of the ICE union Chris Crane sent a letter to big business such as General Mills and the McDonalds Corporation, warning them that their push for comprehensive reform will undermine the work of the ICE. Although large agencies have failed to act, some former political figure such as former Tim Pawlenty aide David Gaither have started to move individually to push legislative reform. Gaither teamed up with the immigration reform group Fwd.us created by businessman Mark Zuckerberg to try to lobby three conservative members of the House. Fwd.us is notable because the group has attempt to use the support of big companies, notable political figures, and small citizens groups to get attention for immigration reform.
It’s very difficult to say which group will have the most success because each group must overcome obstacles to achieve lobbying results. Maybe the best bet is to combine government, citizen, and business factions like Fwd.us has done to promote reform.
–Arthur Townsend #6