‘Urgent’ Immigration Reform Turns Out Not So Urgent

Published on December 12th, 2013

Here, in no particular order, is a short list of concerns that Congress will take up when it reconvenes in January 2014:

  1. Whether to extend benefits expiring Dec. 28 for 1.3 million workers unemployed for longer than 26 weeks. (An additional 1.9 million jobless will also have benefits run out in the first half of 2014.)
  2. A contentious budget deal; current federal funding ends January 15.
  3. President Obama’s negotiated temporary agreement with Iran to curb its nuclear program.
  4. Obamacare.
  5. How to put 20 million unemployed Americans back to work.
  6. Comprehensive immigration reform.

Five of those six problems could accurately be labeled urgent. After all, government funding and unemployment benefits have fixed expiration dates. During the first quarter, Obamacare could leave millions without insurance or saddled with costs for prescription drugs so high that they can’t afford their medication. Those are urgent problems.

Yet immigration advocates insist on routinely referring to legalizing 12-20 million illegal immigrants as urgent when clearly it isn’t. Here are a few examples: a group of Colorado businessmen want “urgent action;” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops cited reform’s “great moral urgency” when it implored President Obama to intervene; and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the Council on Foreign Relations that bills to increase immigration must pass immediately in order to create jobs and boost the economy.

Advocates know that the clock is running out on them. Immigration reform will not trump the budget or Obamacare. By the time those thorny issues get resolved, if they ever do, primary elections in anticipation of the 2014 mid-terms will have arrived. Despite happy talk that immigration will be a focal point for many districts, history has taught us that the last thing candidates want to do during an election season is talk about immigration. Various partially completed bills, most notably two proposed by Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), don’t have enough support to gain traction in the House before spring.

Immigration reform lobbyists refuse to acknowledge their time bind. Eliseo Medina, Secretary-Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union and former United Farm Workers board member, said that House Majority leader John Boehner could bring up legislation any time he wants. He also said:

“Our campaign has not been driven by the legislative calendar, it has been driven by the urgency of the issue.”
[“Immigration Advocates Bank on Budget Deal to Rescue Overhaul,” by Russell Berman, The Hill, December 7, 2013]

Despite months of trying to convince congressional skeptics that reform requires immediate action, lobbyists haven’t been able to make their case. The comprehensive reform legislation that appeared certain back in January never happened because, unlike the deficit or unemployment, amnesty isn’t one of America’s most compelling challenges.

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