Signs That 2014 Could Be the Year for Immigration Reform

This column originally appeared on The Quorum Report. Join us there daily for coverage of Texas politics and government.


Speaker Boehner’s been attacked for what some call his amnesty program for House Republican incumbents.

On the first workday of 2014, there’s no doubt business leaders in Texas were pleased to see the report from the New York Times that declared US House Speaker John Boehner now supports changing the nation’s outdated immigration laws. The Times report cites a willingness on Boehner’s part to take a piecemeal approach to passing immigration reform – as opposed to the Senate’s already-passed comprehensive bill – and perhaps more importantly there is now a willingness on the part of President Obama to address the issue in chunks rather than with one big bill.

All this squares with what we reported Quorum Report’s sources were telling us back on Dec 3:

An aggressive timeline for passing comprehensive immigration reform may become a reality based on two significant developments on Capitol Hill. One of them is that House Speaker John Boehner has hired an Immigration Policy Director who has deep experience in overhaul efforts. The other is that in recent weeks, various Texas business interests have told Quorum Report that Boehner has been telling them that he will start holding immigration votes not long after the filing deadline has passed.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

That’s a move that some in conservative media attacked as an amnesty program for House Republicans. That charge is not entirely off-base if the point is to protect incumbents from Tea Party challengers. The biggest sticking point, of course, will be whether the House takes up a path to citizenship for the undocumented. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has criticized Democrats for insisting on inclusion of that provision. His argument is that Democrats are stubbornly insisting on an “all or nothing” approach – which is his way of stubbornly trying to ensure nothing passes.

If you think immigration reform can’t pass in an election year, keep in mind that supporting it is really only a challenge for candidates in GOP primaries. That’s why the Texas Lieutenant Governor’s race is being dragged further and further to the right on the issue by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who ironically hails from what is perhaps the most progressive city in Texas when it comes to immigration.

Houston has been criticized as a “sanctuary city for illegal immigrants” by Patrick and others because police officers there, by standing order, do not inquire about immigration status of people they encounter on the street. That’s balanced, however, by Democratic Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s embrace of a program called 287(g) that seeks to determine the immigration status of those who are booked at the Harris County Jail. It is the only urban county in Texas with the program in which county and federal officers work “shoulder-to-shoulder” to identify those who are illegally in the country, said Alan Bernstein with the Sheriff’s office.

Houston business leaders have been at the forefront in the push for comprehensive reform in DC. The lobbyists for the Greater Houston Partnership have worn out multiple pairs of boots walking the halls of power in Washington. If immigration reform is passed in the New Year, it will be in no small part thanks to the efforts of the Bayou City’s business community.

Bashing immigrants and taking a hard line on border security remains a tried-and-true way to gain traction in a Republican primary, but it is now demonstrably a net negative in a general election. As the Times report reminds us: “Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president in 2012, who took a hard line on immigration, won only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote — a key reason for his loss to President Obama.” To say he took a “hard line” is a bit of an understatement – Gov. Romney not only said life should be made so difficult in the United States for undocumented immigrants that they’ll be compelled to “self deport,” he also called young immigrants “illegal aliens” during a Latino forum on Spanish language television.

While one wing of the Republican Party is closed off to changing a law that only helps create a black market for labor, the rest of the nation seems ready to adopt reforms that would be in sync with our social and economic realities. As for Republican Hispanic outreach efforts, it should be noted that the Latino GOP vote was steadily increasing until the right-wing came out swinging against President George W. Bush’s push for reform in his second term.

Copyright January 02, 2014, Harvey Kronberg,, All rights are reserved. Reprinted with permission. 

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