Opportunities for meaningful immigration reform this year are there. But they come with a word of warning.
There may be several windows of opportunity for meaningful immigration reform this year. But a word of warning: If it doesn’t happen in 2014, reform chances are null and void until after the presidential elections of 2016.
So it’s imperative dairy producers and their organizations re-energize on the issue now. The most critical time will be the first week of June, when Congressmen and women are back in their home districts campaigning for the November election.
"We’re not to the end yet, but I think there is reason to be a little bit optimistic," says Craig Regelbrugge, co-chair of the Ag Coalition for Immigration Reform and a senior vice president of the American Horticulture Industry Association. "Speaker [of the House] John Boehner (R-Ohio) wants to get the issue done, and the mood among Republicans is trending better."
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue, albeit facetiously, says Republicans need not field a presidential candidate in 2016 if immigration isn’t resolved.
"So there’s reasonable prospect for forward progress in June and July in Congress," Regelbrugge says. "If we get to August, it will be tougher as Congress then goes into full election mode."
Immigration reform is all politics practically all the time. It’s the reason we could not get reform earlier this year. Republican Congressmen and women, and some Senators as well, are afraid of appearing too pro-reform. If they could be portrayed as such by the far-right wing and/or Tea Party, they would face Holy Hell in the primary elections this spring. Conventional wisdom was that we’d have to get past the primaries to give a window of opportunity for reform efforts.
It appears that conventional wisdom is proving correct. For the most part, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse being the exception, incumbent Republicans have held off their Tea Party challengers this spring. That gives immigration reformers a chance this summer, after the Congressional recess the first week of June and before the August recess leading up to the campaign.
But Regelbrugge urges dairy farmers not to be complacent or leave the lobbying up to their co-ops, the National Milk Producers Federation or their farm organizations. Congressmen need to hear directly from constituents how lack of reform is impeding their business and what the economic consequences are, he says.
"You have to take the issue into your own hands, band together with like-minded colleagues and see your lawmaker. Press them to move a package of reforms or a series of bills and to take action between now and August," says Regelbrugge.
Failing passage this summer, there might be one more opportunity in the lame-duck Congressional session following the election in November. But that might be a much sparser, take-it-or-leave-it bill that Republicans offer Democrats and President Obama. How in-your-face that option would be likely depends on whether the Republicans gain control of the Senate and the number of House seats they pick up.
In other words, the time for bipartisan action—and meaningful reform--is now.