Immigration reform: If not now, when?

For a year that started with strong, if not unprecedented, support for reform, the flagging efforts were met with silence and apathy. Congress is in its final days of the 2013 session and it’s clear immigration reform will be shelved until next year.
By Catherine Brzycki -- Medill News Service   |   Dec. 10, 2013 at 10:20 AM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- Congress is in the final days of its 2013 session with lawmakers facing another round of pressing issues that need resolution by the year’s end. In the U.S. House, the holiday schedule is out -- and it’s clear immigration reform will be shelved until next year.

For a year that started with strong, if not unprecedented, support for reform, the flagging efforts were met with silence and apathy. Striking a new budget deal will be the most critical issue this month, followed by work on a farm bill and wrapping up legislation authorizing military pay. This leaves no time for comprehensive immigration reform.

The reform movement has backing from evangelical Christians, Democrats and many Republicans. There are political arguments, economic arguments and moral arguments. Advocates have protested, marched, prayed and fasted for reform.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum and an advocate for immigration for the last decade, said the political climate at this time is unprecedented because “the politics, the policy and the humanity are meeting at precisely the right moment.”

In June, the Senate passed a bi-partisan immigration reform bill. When it moved to the House, the comprehensive measure stalled and now many House members have said they intend to pass reform but in smaller pieces of legislation.

Immigration experts say activists are still pushing for reform because this issue is “personal.”

“Real people’s lives get impacted everyday,” said Jill Wilson, an immigration policy expert at Brookings Institution. “This is a personal issue and this affects their lives.”

Wilson said she and others are looking forward to a resolution on reform.

“I think a lot of people are still holding out hope that they will move this across the finish line,” Wilson said.

Noorani, touching on the deeply personal aspect of this issue, said the issue of immigration will not go away. He said he is reminded of the sensitive issue of this nature often when he speaks with businessmen and law enforcement officials.

“They are breaking down into tears because they know immigrants,” Noorani says. “It touches peoples’ hearts and minds unlike anything else.”

The number of deportations in the U.S. dropped in 2013, according to preliminary numbers from the Department of Homeland Security. Nearly 365,000 people were deported during the fiscal year, compared to an annual average of 400,000 in recent years.

Many reform advocates are certain that House Republican leaders will move forward on legislation next year. Last week, House Speaker John Boehner hired Rebecca Tallent as his policy adviser on immigration. Tallent is a former immigration advisor to Sen. John McCain.

“That move was a signal that the House is taking this seriously,” said Wilson.

At his weekly news conference on Nov. 21, Boehner said he’s hopeful progress will be made next year. He said private conversations are under way among lawmakers to figure out the best strategy in moving forward.

“The 113th Congress is conducive to passing reform,” Noorani said. “We have another year to get this through the House.”

For now he is focusing on the end goal: “Imagine when we win and the kind of celebration that is going to take place.”

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