Despite Lopsided Senate Vote, Immigration Bill Faces Rough Road in House

The Senate approved last June 27 the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” by a 68-32 vote. Immigrant advocates are hoping that the broad bipartisan support would put pressure on the House of Representatives to act and vote on the bill which would finally fix the country’s broken immigration system.

But House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has indicated that the House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passed and that they are going to make their own bill. The House Speaker said that “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.” For the immigration bill, this means that a majority of the party in control of the House will have to support the proposed legislation before it is voted upon by the full chamber.

With the majority of the members of the GOP-dominated House opposing the proposed pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., the comprehensive immigration reform bill will face a much longer and tougher road ahead.  In fact, a group of conservatives in the House of Representatives are already employing the “piecemeal approach” to immigration reform by passing individual bills addressing specific aspects of immigration.

Among the piecemeal measures introduced in the House are the following: a bill dealing with farm workers, temporarily granting them permission to live and work in the U.S. but not providing a pathway to citizenship, a bill requiring businesses to check on the legal status of employees within two years, and a bill criminalizing undocumented individuals who are “unlawfully present” and allowing state and local governments to enforce federal immigration laws.

This “piecemeal approach” is staunchly opposed by Democrats and is seen only as a means to kill any efforts towards creating a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented in the country.

Despite the difficult and tumultuous road ahead, the passage of the bill in the Senate is a major step towards immigration reform which cannot be summarily dismissed nor ignored by the GOP-run House. Achieving the strong bipartisan support in the Senate did not happen overnight. The bill underwent a long process, with more than 300 amendments considered in the Senate Judiciary Committee and critical changes adopted one day before it was finally voted upon.

The amendment bolstering border security by allocating $40 billion for border enforcement measures including doubling the number of Border Patrol agents and installing 700 miles of fencing won over more Republican votes in the Senate.

Notwithstanding the strong opposition in the House, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer believes that the House will ultimately pass the comprehensive immigration bill before the end of the year. Top Republicans have said that with the growing Hispanic and Asian American voting block, any chance at winning the White House will depend on the passage of this bill.

The GOP-controlled House cannot simply put the bill on the back burner. The mounting pressure from religious organizations including evangelical Christians and the Catholic Church, business groups, the high tech industry, labor unions and farm groups just won’t allow it.