Like the weather, everyone talks about immigration reform, but few do much about it.
In fact, non-doing is the dominant feature of immigration lawmaking. A Google search of the phrase “immigration impasse” returns “about 621,000 results in 0.61 seconds” dating back to at least the mid-1990s.
However, there was a moment of movement last summer when top U.S. senators announced they were close to an immigration deal based on a House-passed 2021 bill. That bipartisan bill would have opened “a pathway for foreign workers of farms to obtain legal status for year-round work,” a critical need for any immigration bill to move forward, Politico reported last July.
But the effort was quickly stymied by two very Capitol Hill reasons: a shortened election-year Senate calendar and border security. Senate Republicans had repeatedly warned the majority Democrats that there would be no immigration bill without accompanying legislation to close the porous US-Mexico border.
Pushing the Senate effort even deeper into the background was Republican hopes of winning the House and Senate in November. This double win would bring about a double whammy on immigration: any current bill would die at the end of the congressional session, and, more importantly, the GOP would write a tougher, narrower replacement.
However, the Republicans’ slim 222-213 victory in the House lost some of its luster, as Senate Democrats kept their 50 seats and added one. This division of Congress offers little compromise on most issues over the next two years and guarantees only inaction on any immigration reform.
Further dimming those prospects is the open division among House Republicans over who will lead them when they win the majority on Jan. 3. It is said that Californian Kevin McCarthy has not closed the 218 votes he needs to ask for the hand of the president.
No speaker means no law and no lawmakers means continued gridlock for as long as it takes Republicans to choose a leader.
Sensing an opening at the end of the year before House Republicans take over, the Democrat leading the Senate’s immigration reform effort, Michael Bennet of Colorado, released an immigration bill on Dec. 15. The Bennet bill, as the bipartisan House bill of 2021, contains everything — and, frankly, more — that both parties say they need in any reform legislation.
“Everything” was the easy part; However, “more” jeopardized the bill’s chances of passage from the start.
For example, both GOP and Democrats agree that the critical H-2A program, the temporary visa program that many farmers and ranchers depend on for seasonal, legal immigrant workers, will be extended for three years. Bennet’s bill increased the current number by 26,000, with half reserved for dairy work. The number of visas was then increased by 15% per year for each of the next six years.
These growing numbers were a big reason why the National Milk Producers Federation quickly passed the Bennet bill.
Other powers, such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, wanted even more visas now — as well as later — than the Bennet plan offered. But more visas, immigrant labor groups argued, meant a larger labor pool and, in turn, lower farm wages.
Another sticking point — both in Bennet’s effort and in any new 2023 bill — was a “pathway to citizenship” for immigrant workers and their families. Republicans call any path “amnesty,” heating up reform negotiations with political fervor.
But while the current Senate bill contained a path to citizenship, it was too long. In fact, according to Colorado Public Radio, the Bennet bill “created a program for farmworkers and their families to gain legal status after 10 years of work.”
“It’s definitely not instant citizenship or anything like that,” a spokesman for the United Farm Workers union told Boise State.
Definitely not, but the long timeline for citizenship wasn’t what worried most Republicans; it was the concept itself. They just don’t want any roads.
Bennet said his bill’s reforms were “unquestionable”. Its passage before the end of the year would be “better for American agriculture … family farms … farm workers … and our country.”
All true and very difficult; Bennet’s bill was not included in the year-end budget agreement.
That means the best hope for immigration reform is — again — years away.