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Immigration Reform: Principles, Politics and Boehner’s Delicate Balance
Jan 25, 2014
What can the dairy industry expect from the GOP’s forthcoming "Immigration Principles"?
By Erich Straub, attorney
It is a new year and time for resolutions. For 2014, most of my resolutions fall into the typical: eat healthier, exercise more and spend more time with my family. But this year I am adding a non-typical resolution: throw out "conventional wisdom" as it relates to Congress and immigration reform.
2013 proved to be an utterly confounding year for conventional wisdom and immigration. Pro-reform forces were finally able to reach the magical 60 votes in the Senate. In fact, the final tally was 68. Pro-reformers also won the grassroots and media contest during the August Congressional recess. Opinion polls showed somewhere between 60% and 70% of Americans supported reform with a path to citizenship for the undocumented. In spite of all of this, everything ground to a halt with the vitriol surrounding the government shutdown in October.
House GOP "Immigration Principles"
So where does this leave immigration reform for 2014? There have been hopeful signs recently. In December, House Speaker John Boehner hired Rebecca Tallent, the well-respected former immigration adviser for pro-reform Senator John McCain. This week the House Republican leadership is promising to announce a set of "immigration principles" to guide a legislative push in 2014.
Boehner’s principles are not complete, but House Republican leadership has begun to talk about them publicly, if only in broad terms. They are expected to include a strong border security component, mandatory e-Verify, a guest-worker program for low-skilled labor, more high-tech visas, and a special pathway to citizenship for undocumented children commonly referred to as "Dreamers." None of these proposals are new, and there are similar provisions in last year’s Senate bill.
The principles are also expected to include a path to legal status, but not citizenship, for the broader undocumented population. This component is significant because the House Republican leadership has never publicly endorsed legal status for the larger undocumented population. In fact, a significant part of their caucus vehemently opposes legalization, calling it amnesty. This is also likely to be the area of greatest difference with the Senate bill, which has a pathway to citizenship.
The Dairy Analysis
The legalization/citizenship distinction is likely to be the greatest difference for reform as it relates to dairy. The Senate bill would create a two-fold approach to dairy’s current immigration crisis: (1) legalization and an expedited pathway to citizenship for its current workforce, and (2) a limited guest worker program to meet future labor needs. Under the House principles, it would seem that an expedited path to citizenship would be out. Past House legislation has also proposed a larger, more employer-friendly guest worker program that would be available for dairy.
So, back to New Year’s resolutions and conventional wisdom in D.C. It is far too early to break resolutions, so I will make no prediction for 2014. However, I will identify the political factors that I believe will be present in the debate. Republican Senator John Cornyn put it most succinctly: "We can win in 2014 without resolving it. We can’t win in 2016 without resolving it." House Republican leadership is looking forward to 2016 by pushing immigration reform, and they would love nothing more than their own Paul Ryan to be in the Oval Office. However, Boehner will not risk a schism in his caucus that could jeopardize control of the House or his own leadership position. Can he achieve this delicate balance? Only the coming months will tell.
I would also be remiss if I did not include the Democrats in the political calculation. For Democrats, the greatest danger is to appear to snatch defeat from the jaws of their 2012 presidential victory. Many of their supporters, Hispanics most prominently, want nothing short of a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented. So, even if Boehner is successful, the result may not be politically acceptable to either the Senate or President Obama.
Erich C. Straub is an immigration lawyer who practices in Wisconsin and is listed in The Best Lawyers in America, SuperLawyers, and U.S. News and World Report’s Best Law Firms. Mr. Straub has spoken to audiences throughout the U.S. on immigration, and frequently advises Wisconsin Dairy Farmers on the topic. He has traveled Washington, D.C., to meet with elected officials regarding immigration reform. In 2008, the Milwaukee Business Journal described him as a "national leader on the federal immigration issue." Contact him at (414) 224-8472, or firstname.lastname@example.org.