Thousands of demonstrators gather in Los Angeles on May 1, 2013, as part of May Day national marches and rallies, energized by the possibility of immigration reform. Today's demonstrations are intended to press Congress to enact legislation ending deportations. UPI/Jim Ruymen | License Photo
Based on the rhetoric coming from some sectors, one might think immigration is a new concept in the United States, a position at odds with the centuries-old description of the country as a nation of immigrants.
The Senate last week took a major step toward overhauling immigration policy, adopting 68-32 a measure that offers a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people already here illegally and tightens border security to reduce the flow.
Now that the Senate has stepped up, it's the House's turn.
"Today, the Senate did its job," President Barack Obama said Thursday. "It's now up to the House to do the same.
"The bipartisan bill that passed today was a compromise. By definition, nobody got everything they wanted. Not Democrats. Not Republicans. Not me. But the Senate bill is consistent with the key principles for commonsense reform that I -- and many others -- have repeatedly laid out."
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who helped write the bill, said the issue is much more than a policy decision.
"For anyone in this chamber who believes this is just another vote, just another political issue, remember the last naturalization ceremony you attended when new Americans, with flags in hand, took the oath and became part of this country. The emotion they felt and the emotion you felt should remind you how historic this moment truly is," he said.
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has declared the Senate bill dead on arrival in the House, insisting Republicans will craft their own reform proposal. So far so good. The looming problem, however, is Boehner's insistence he will adhere to the so-called Hastert rule -- named after former Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. -- saying he won't bring anything to a floor vote, including anything out of conference committee, unless a majority of House Republicans supports it.
"For any legislation, including a conference report, to pass the House, it's going to have to be a bill that has the support of a majority of our members," Boehner told his weekly Capitol news conference.
Like the Gang of Eight in the Senate that crafted the Senate bill, a bipartisan Gang of Seven is working on a House measure.
"There will be a bill," promised Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., one of the negotiators. "I don't know when."
Boehner said any House will would have to have the support of a majority of both parties.
House Republican objections to the Senate-passed bill center on both border security and allowing those already here illegally to stay. The GOP says granting amnesty amounts to rewarding illegal behavior and when it comes to border security, they say, they've heard that before. Democrats counter it's not amnesty: Undocumented immigrants would have to earn their way to citizenship. As for border security, they note the strides that already have been made and point out the bill provides for $46 million to double the number of border patrol agents -- a provision that has rankled politicians and pundits south of the border.
Boehner last week refused to take any specific policy positions aside from insisting on border security, saying that would just slow down the bipartisan discussion. In the past, he has indicated he would like to see a bill by August although he declined to outline a timetable last week.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who heads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Task Force, urged Boehner to speed up the process, saying, "You are on the clock."
Citing a report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, White House spokesman Jay Carney said immigration reform would provide "a boon to our economy, a boon to the middle class, would reduce the deficit significantly in both the first 10 years and then hugely in the second 10 years and would increase innovation and job creation at home because, as you've seen from the statistics, there is -- when we modernize our legal immigration system, we enhance the prospects of keeping highly talented entrepreneurs in the United States so that they can create businesses and jobs in the industries of the future in the United States."
Failure in the House could spell trouble for Republicans down the road. National party leadership has acknowledged it needs to win Hispanic support to prevail in years to come. Without adopting immigration reform and a path to citizenship, such support is unlikely.
Maria Elena Durazo, who chairs the National AFL-CIO Immigration Reform Committee, urged the House to take action.
"We urge Speaker John Boehner and the House of Representatives to embrace America's diversity and move swiftly to pass an immigration reform bill that tends to the needs of working families and provides a secure path to citizenship to immigrant workers," she said in a statement.
"The Labor movement and our allies will continue to work to make sure the final bill offers more protections to workers, fair access to needed benefits, a far less militarized, more sensible border security program and fewer obstacles to aspiring Americans. No further compromise to the roadmap to citizenship will be tolerated."