Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How Likely Is Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

The Obama administration has said that it would like to see comprehensive immigration reform enacted in the next few months. So how likely is it? Both Democrats and Republicans are on board with some type of immigration reform.

The Dems are pushing for one bill that includes (among other things) a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, modifications to the guest worker program for farm labor, visa incentives for high-skilled workers, and relief for unauthorized immigrants who came to the United States illegally when they were children. A number of Republicans would like to break up the issues into smaller pieces and debate each one at a time.

Democrats are opposed to breaking up the bill because they want to use parts of the bill as leverage to get Republicans to agree to the more controversial aspects. For example, many Republicans are on board with a bill that would provide incentives for high-skilled immigrants to remain in the United States but they do not want illegal immigrants to obtain a path to citizenship (as opposed to some form of permanent residency).

So, comprehensive immigration reform is going to come down to whether enough Republicans agree to the more controversial parts of the bill. At the top will be whether unauthorized immigrants can obtain a path to citizenship. I suspect that for many Republicans, agreeing to a path to citizenship will require a difficult path: monetary penalties, disqualifying categories, etc. It will also require some additional rules and enforcement mechanisms to ensure that we aren't having the same debate in ten years with another group of unauthorized immigrants. After all, Republicans will argue, there has to be some incentive for prospective immigrants to wait patiently in their home countries to come here through legal channels.

Republicans got hammered on the immigration issue in the last election cycle. The election results have certainly served as a wake-up call to many Republicans about the future demographics of the electorate. However, because of Republican redistricting in 2010, many Republicans in the House hold very safe seats and they view primary challenges as their biggest obstacle to reelection. This will allow them to thumb their nose at the national immigration trends. So we'll have to see how the House Republicans react. I'd guess that there's a 75% chance that we'll see some type of immigration reform by late summer. But at this stage, exactly what the bill (or bills) would look like is anyone's guess.



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