House GOP Telegraphs Slow Death Of Immigration Reform

Protesters hold U.S. flags and signs during an anti-immigration rally near the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo., Monday, April 17, 2006.
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House Republicans are telegraphing in a variety of new ways the gradual demise of immigration reform legislation, signaling they’ll delay the issue until next year, speaking out against make-or-break provisions, and arguing that the Obama administration can’t be trusted to implement the law.

In the latest sign of trouble, House Republican leadership aides are whispering to reporters that the upcoming fiscal battles — on keeping the federal government funded and averting debt default — could push immigration reform into 2014, when lawmakers will be more focused on re-election.

“If we have to deal with the debt limit earlier, it doesn’t change the overall dynamics of the debate, but — just in terms of timing — it might make it harder to find time for immigration bills in October,” one aide told Politico.

Given the tight deadlines when Congress returns, House Republican leaders are eying a short-term resolution to keep the federal government running for a few months. That raises the likelihood that Congress will be mired in budget fights for the remainder of 2013 while leaders negotiate a longer-term continuing resolution.

House Republicans will be more reluctant to support immigration reform as the 2014 midterm elections near. Many are fending off conservative primary challengers.

Another bad omen for reform is the arc of Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), who is in some ways the embodiment of a pro-reform GOP congressman: 40 percent of his constituents are Hispanic (very few House Republicans represent significant Latino populations) and earlier this month he spoke out repeatedly in favor of the Senate-passed immigration bill, including its path to citizenship for people living in the United States illegally.

But this week he made clear even he would vote against the Senate immigration bill. “Congressman Denham has said since the Senate bill passed in June that he thought it made great progress,” his spokeswoman Jordan Langdon told the Washington Post. “Many of the provisions of the Senate bill, passed on a bipartisan basis, have his support. However, he believes the Senate bill is flawed, and that the strongest immigration reform legislation will come out of a conference between the two chambers.”

The third sign of trouble came last week, when the Republican who chairs the committee with jurisdiction over immigration policy continued to angle against reform.

Earlier in the week, Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) declared his opposition to a pathway to citizenship for anyone in the U.S. illegally, even young people brought as children. Democrats have made clear that without that component, reform is dead.

Despite catching an earful from the pro-reform community, Goodlatte wasn’t fazed. Soon afterward, he wrote a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano accusing the Department of being too lenient with Mexicans who are trying to abuse the system to receive asylum in the U.S. by claiming “credible fear” of drug cartels at home.

“I am concerned with the inability of the Administration to follow the current law that pertains to the asylum process,” he wrote. “Once again the Administration has chosen to turn the immigration enforcement switch off in a manner contrary to the intent of Congress, by simply enforcing the immigration laws when, where, and as it is deemed fit.”

Questioning the Obama administration’s trustworthiness in implementing the law is a common refrain among conservatives who oppose citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

The developments are troubling supporters of the overhaul, who refuse to give up and insist they’ll prevail. Despite their promises to address the issue in their own step-by-step manner, the latest signs are that House Republicans are looking for a way to get to ‘no’ on immigration reform that could pass Congress in the foreseeable future. Republicans would be better off politically if they drag out the process and let the effort die a slow, rather than sudden, death.

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