By Joe Guzzardi
December 30, 2013
A year ago, rumor began to circulate on Capitol Hill that Congress would make comprehensive immigration reform its first matter of business when it reconvened in January. During the 2012 election campaign, President Obama had repeatedly promised the Hispanic lobby that, with the Affordable Health Care Act behind him, immigration would be his top priority.
But as 2013 wore on, reform which the media immediately pronounced as a done-deal even before legislation had been introduced, died a slow but certain death. What doomed reform reflects a combination of mismanagement and unforeseen events that derailed the bill and may have killed it until 2015.
Here is what went wrong. First, when 2013 began, the Senate Gang of Eight, advertised as bipartisan but really a group of long-time amnesty advocates, met in secret—always a sign that special interests may be influencing the process. Along its way, the Gang got advice from immigration lawyers, the Chamber of Commerce and churches, all with vested interests in amnesty. By the time the Senate bill passed in June, it had rejected amendments that called for tighter border security and more internal enforcement. The Senate had accomplished its goal to pass the most liberal imaginable bill imaginable. At that point, the strategy was to ram it through the House.
Second, once the House refused to take up the Senate bill and vowed only to continue piecemeal, the White House and Senate Democrats made it clear that they wouldn’t accept a more conservative, compromise bill that Republicans could support. A bipartisan House Gang of Eight, originally formed in 2009, couldn’t agree on the crucial details like how long illegal immigrants’ path to citizenship should take. The Gang eventually disbanded, an indication of the fragmented House.
Third, as it became apparent that border security, mandatory E-Verify, learning English, paying back taxes and other carrots dangled to win over skeptics would never happen, opponents ratcheted up their resistance. For all the bluster that surrounds immigration reform on the Hill, it’s a tough sale back home, as legislators learned during their summer recesses.
Members of NumbersUSA.com, a Washington, D.C. group that favors less immigration, sent more than 5 million FAXes to their representatives protesting that amnesty, which would have included work permits for 12-20 million illegal immigrants during a period of sustained high unemployment, would hurt the 20 million Americas who can’t find a full time job. Those five million are registered voters.
Fourth, advocates’ grand design to influence Congress backfired. For months, illegal immigrants marched, fasted, staged sit-ins, and got arrested, all familiar political theater that’s consistently failed during more than a decade of attempted reform. This year, however, proponents took their outcry to a higher level. They boldly confronted legislators at their homes and at restaurants. House Whip Kevin McCarthy said he couldn’t go grocery shopping in his Kern Country district without fear of confrontation from angry illegal immigrants and their allies. McCarthy called protestors’ tactics counterproductive.
Fifth, as often happens, the unanticipated threw a wrench in the works. The government shut down, the Syria distraction and the growing headaches with Obamacare diminished congressional enthusiasm to continue the grinding dispute on toxic, no-win immigration reform.
The forecast for 2014 is cloudy. Hard core advocates like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner are committed. But, with mid-term elections looming, their time frame to enact even piecemeal bills is no more than three months.
Beyond November 2014, however, a grassroots rebellion may be the only thing standing between amnesty and sensible immigration legislation that will first and foremost benefit Americans.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1987. Contact him at [email protected]