No Comprehensive Immigration Reform: a Year-End Review
At this time last year, the Obama administration waxed rhapsodic about plans for comprehensive immigration reform in 2013,1 leaving immigration practitioners cautiously optimistic that this would be the year.2 Even though Obama's 2012 campaign pledge to produce immigration reform mimicked unfulfilled promises from the 2008 campaign,3 the GOP had been pummeled in the 2012 election over anti-immigration rhetoric;4 hence, there would be sufficient impetus on both sides of the aisle to pass bipartisan legislation.
But even longer term hope for a comprehensive package has waned at this point in response to stalemate discourse at the political level. Bickering over whether reform should be comprehensive or piecemeal has slowed congressional momentum and pushed immigration lower and lower on the list of priorities. Moreover, the distractions of the cataclysmic implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the failures of American fiscal strategy, and even tensions with Russia over its anti-gay propaganda law in anticipation of the 2014 Sochi Olympics have usurped the spotlight in the 24-hour news cycle.
Here then are the highlights of the progressively faltering push toward comprehensive immigration reform in 2013:
• On Feb. 12, 2013, President Barack Obama's State of the Union address expounded on the economic benefits of immigration and the new political consensus on the need for immigration reform, especially for the 11 million undocumented individuals in the United States. He also explained the necessity for a new "legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers who will help create jobs and grow our economy. In other words, we know what needs to be done. As we speak, bipartisan groups in both chambers are working diligently to draft a bill, and I applaud their efforts. Now let's get this done. Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away."5
• On June 26, 2013, the House Judiciary Committee marked up the Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 1772), one of several piecemeal measures it had considered. This bill included provisions making the use of an electronic employment verification system mandatory.6
• On June 27, 2013, the Senate voted 68-32 in favor of final passage of S. 744, the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act," a comprehensive, bipartisan bill.7
• On July 10, 2013, the House of Representatives' Republican caucus met to discuss prospects for immigration reform. The leadership then released a statement rejecting the Senate's bipartisan bill.8
• On Oct. 2, 2013, House Democrats introduced a comprehensive reform bill based on the bill that passed in the Senate in June.9
• On Oct. 24, 2013, Obama called on the House to pass comprehensive legislation by the end of the year.10
• In an interview with National Public Radio on Dec. 20, 2013, Obama discussed the failure to meet his timeline for immigration reform. On his inability to get immigration reform passed, the president said: "The fact that it didn't hit the timeline that I'd prefer is frustrating, but it's not something I brood about."11