The House and the Senate are in recess until Wednesday, September 9th. The Senate passed its version of the bill, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act on June 27 by a 68-32 vote. Many Republicans voted for the bill with the caveat that their vote was preliminary in order to move the process along, and that they would revisit the legislation when it inevitably came back to the Senate.
The House began immigration proceedings soon after, but did not complete its work before the summer recess. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte wavered between packing the House’s version of immigration into a comprehensive bill and splitting up the bills to consider and pass them in a piecemeal fashion.
Two weeks ago, news leaked that Chairman Goodlatte had put together an “immigration resource kit” for GOP members of the House that contained briefings on the various parts of immigration reform and seemed to confirm his decision to take a piecemeal approach. Confirming what many had predicted about the House’s approach, it preferred border security before any sort of legalization or pathway to citizenship and was receptive to high-skilled immigration reform and some version of the DREAM Act.
So far, five bills have been passed out of the House Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees concerning border security, interior enforcement, agricultural workers, high-skilled visas, and E-Verify requirements. Only the border security bill had some semblance of bipartisan support.
The August recess that members are on now will partly determine whether the House will continue its immigration efforts. Activists on both sides are planning to lobby members during town hall meetings. When members come back in September, other legislative issues stand in their way, including another debt-ceiling fight. Prospects for reform looked better when the estimated timetable for completion was before the August recess: we should know by late September whether immigration reform is likely to continue.
Many thought that by taking a piecemeal approach, the House had doomed immigration reform by rejecting the Senate’s comprehensive bill. Senator Chuck Schumer, leader of the Senate Gang of Eight, has publicly stated that is not the case. If the House passes a series of bills that address all the issues included in comprehensive reform, then the Senate and the House will have common ground to work with during conference committee.
One main challenge ahead is the treatment of the eleven million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States. The Senate bill gave them a pathway to citizenship in the form of a thirteen-year wait through a Registered Provisional Status. The House looks like it will delay any form of legalization until two things happen: first, the border must be “secure” by whatever definition they agree on; second, all noncitizens currently in line for permanent resident status obtain their green cards before any currently undocumented immigrants do so.
Our own Lanhee Chen has written a column summarizing where things stand today.