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Making Sense of Immigration’s Political Paradox

Sep 09, 2013

With Syria and a possible federal government shut-down ahead, what should dairy producers expect on immigration reform?

Erich Straub   CopyBy Erich C. Straub, attorney

In my last column, I expressed optimism that an immigration reform bill would be on the President’s desk this month. That has not yet happened, and instead, Syrian military intervention and a possible federal government shutdown have jumped in front on the Congressional priority list.

The showdown on immigration reform seems to be scheduled for October in the House, but I must include myself among the many Americans who have learned never to underestimate Congress’ ability to kick the can down the road on an urgent issue.

What should dairy producers expect at this point? It is difficult to predict because the debate has become such a paradox. Back in late June, a truly bipartisan piece of legislation came out of the Senate with what appeared to be significant momentum. In an era of hyper-bipartisanship, it is rare for 68 Senators to agree on anything, let alone such a sweeping piece of legislation on a contentious issue. Yet almost immediately, Speaker John Boehner announced that the Senate bill would not be brought to the House floor for a vote. Instead, Boehner indicated that the House would work a several smaller bills in October.

Boehner’s decision caused the focus of the debate to shift to the August recess, when members of Congress would return home and hear from their constituents. Would the anti-reform movement show-up at town hall meetings and kill reform as they did in 2007, or was the November 2012 election truly a seismic change on the issue?

By all accounts, the anti-reformers were completely out-organized by the pro-reformers. In spite of what appeared to be another significant victory for reform, the press is filled with pessimistic prognostications for presidential signing ceremony. The political paradox continues: Each time the pro-reformers achieve a victory, the "experts" in the Beltway seemingly change the rules of the game.

I remain optimistic that this problem will be solved for dairy as a part of a comprehensive bill, but I have become somewhat weary of predictions. That being said, I will make these observations:

1. The fundamental political factors that have driven reform this far have not changed. Republicans need immigration reform to be viable in the 2016 election and beyond. Democrats do not have a significant incentive to use the defeat of reform against Republicans in 2014 because significant Democratic gains in Congress are not likely based on history. Republican presidential candidates continue to be a barometer, with Paul Ryan desperately trying to move the issue forward in the House.

2. I no longer believe a bill will emerge from a conference committee appointed to resolve competing legislation in the House and Senate. With such a conference likely to be scheduled precariously close to election primaries in early 2014, politics and time have simply made this an unlikely outcome.

3. Finally, the most viable vehicle may be a "grand compromise" as a part of the budget battle that is now looming. While it may seem unlikely given Congress’ inability to achieve even little things, it would give many Republicans cover on the immigration issue if they were able to face potentially angry constituents with a victory on an issue that is more important to them like deficit or entitlement reform.

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

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