Can Business Expect More Progress on Immigration Reform

Posted on: July 23rd, 2013
Will Immigration Reform Move in the House? Not Surprisingly, the Answer has Everything to Do with Politics

Businesses of all sizes – and many businesses in Georgia – are generally supportive of comprehensive immigration reform moving through Congress today because it will make it easier to hire much needed workers.  Yet despite the support of the business community and bolstered border security provisions – both of which helped attract 14 Republican votes in the Senate – prospects for the bill’s passage in the Republican-controlled House this fall remain dim.

Why is that the case?

To get to that answer, we should start with why Congress took up immigration reform in the first place, which according to a recent Gallup poll was 11th in a ranking of issues voters thought were important.

Nevertheless, Democrats put immigration reform at the top of the agenda in 2013.  Why?  Well to a large degree because of the Hispanic vote, which went overwhelmingly for the President and his party in 2012.  According to Pew, Latinos voted for Democrats by a margin of 71% to 27% this last election cycle, a percentage similar to the support President Clinton received in 1992.  But Latinos were only 2% of the electorate in 1992.  By 2012, that percentage grew to 10% and is expected to double by 2030.

Some Republicans looked at those percentages and recognized that they might never win another national election if they continue to lose the Hispanic vote by such large margins.  So some of the Senate’s most conservative members joined forces with Democrats to support the Senate’s immigration reform bill.

But in the House, many Republicans not only don’t need the Hispanic vote to win re-election, supporting a path to citizenship for those here illegally today – or anything that could be characterized as “amnesty” – would be a huge political liability and could invite a primary challenge.

So what has to change for the House to move on immigration reform this fall? Either Republicans looking out for the future of the party’s national prospects are able to convince enough House Republicans to support a bill, which might not be at odds with their constituents back home.  Or the Speaker of the House John Boehner will have to pass a bill with a majority of Democratic votes in the interest of the national party.  The former probably would have happened by now if it was going to happen and the latter might very well cost Boehner his speakership.

So if political calculations put immigration reform on the agenda in the first place, political calculations will also likely determine the bill’s fate.  And right now, the politics of immigration reform for many House Republicans looks a lot different than the politics of immigration reform for the broader Republican Party and certainly the politics of the Democratic Party.