As talk of immigration reform takes hold through the halls of the U.S. Capitol, one cannot help but recognize the high hill any immigration bill has to climb. Immigration reform met its demise via a Republican-controlled House of Representatives before, and there are many reasons why it might be headed there again.
With very few exceptions, legislation cannot advance in the House without the support of a "majority of the majority" party. A Senate-passed immigration proposal probably had enough votes to pass the House, too, in 2006, but House Republicans never let it get to the floor, because their caucus did not support it.
Fully 131 of the 233 House Republicans represent districts that are more than 80 percent white. Not only have many of those members opposed measures beyond improving border security in the past, but there are also no natural pressure groups for immigration reform in their districts. The Democratic Caucus, which is largely unified in support of some sort of immigration reform proposal, has just 31 members from such majority-white districts.
Meanwhile, at least 216 House Republicans come from districts that voted for Mitt Romney over President Obama in November. Jobs and the economy were the prevailing issues in these areas, but the voters in those districts also proved they were not turned off by a candidate who championed "self-deportation" as an immigration policy.
However, there is hope for immigration reform proponents. Popular Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has undergone a significant, public evolution on key pieces of immigration reform, and he could provide cover for some "flexible" Republican House members, like those whose districts have large minority populations, to support an immigration reform bill on the floor.
However, there may not be any legislative movement on any of the ideas presented by the primary immigration reform “gang” led in the Senate by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) until March, the deadline that the eight senators who signed onto the immigration reform principles on Jan. 28 have set for themselves to deliver a bill. President Obama pledged in his speech on Jan. 29 that he would not send legislative language to the Hill unless Congress fails to move in a timely fashion.
The Senate plan is expected to contain the same core elements as proposals offered by the House group and the president, including an employment verification system, border security, a path to legalization, and reform to the legal immigration system. However, whether the comprehensive nature of the plan delays or sinks immigration reform remains to be seen.