Ill-Advised Immigration Amnesty Discharge Petition Going Nowhere

Published on March 28th, 2014

By Joe Guzzardi
March 28, 2014

Even though Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi admits the discharge petition has no chance, Democrats have decided to press ahead in an effort to force a vote on H.R. 15, the House immigration bill.

A discharge petition is a rarely used and even more rarely successful procedural tactic that allows an absolute majority of the House of Representatives, 218 lawmakers, to force a floor vote on a bill, even if leaders who control the House floor oppose the measure. Discharge petitions can help the minority party, in this case Democrats, hijack the majority Republican Party’s legislative agenda.

But the petition is doomed. With 199 members in the House Democratic Caucus and with no Republicans indicating a willingness to sign, it’s an impossible 19 signatures short. 

The House’s signals about immigration are mixed. Speaker John Boehner has kept his promise that the House wouldn’t take up the massive Senate bill which passed last June. Since H.R. 15 is a carbon copy of the Senate bill, Boehner hasn’t allowed a vote on it either. On the other hand, Republican leadership including Boehner, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte have continuously insisted they want immigration bills sooner rather than later. 

Two sub-plots are in play. First, Democrats hope that GOP inaction on the petition will motivate the pro-immigration lobby to hammer away at Republicans who claim to favor reform but won’t step up to sign. 

Second, supporters think that a failed petition might encourage President Obama to act more aggressively on an executive action amnesty. Since the petition is the last legislative gap, activists hope that when it falls flat, Obama will realize it’s up to him alone to go forward.

Obama is all in. Not only has the president gutted enforcement but he’s also pushing the petition and, citing what he claimed is “a vast majority of the American people who agree,” said that reform is “the right thing to do for our economy, our security and our future.” 

There’s the rub and the potential for unintended consequences for Democrats come the November mid-term elections. If immigration reform were popular with the electorate, legislation would have passed last year. But, when representatives return to their districts, they realize that voters view with disdain the plan to legalize 12 million illegal immigrants and more than double legal immigration though an expanded visa system. 

Immigration lobbyists like to reference deeply flawed polling results as proof of what they allege is amnesty’s popularity. However, many of the questions pollsters ask include provisions that either aren’t in the legislation or, if they were to be added, would be ignored once the bill became law. Examples included in bias polling that elicit “yes” responses are: “If illegal immigrants pay back taxes, pay fines, learn English, have no criminal background and are subjected to a rigorous back ground check, would you favor putting them on a “path to citizenship?” As the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act proved, none of these will happen.

Never asked: “Do you agree that illegal immigrants should become immediately work authorized and that children born to all future immigrants, legal or illegal, should automatically receive American citizenship?” Americans overwhelmingly reject those conditions. Yet if reform passes, work permits and birthright citizenship are certainties. 

Capitol Hill immigration bluster doesn’t resonate back home. A recent Gallup Poll found that only 3 percent of Americans rank immigration reform as a top priority. Not surprisingly, dissatisfaction with Washington politicians heads the list of Americans’ concerns with 21 percent.

Incumbents and their challengers who plan to make immigration the cornerstone of their summer campaigns should beware of voter backlash.


Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1987. Contact him at [email protected]

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