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Either Party Could Benefit From a Move on Immigration

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
In Rep. Kathy Hochul's New York district, a generally conservative dairy farmer said either party could gain his support by pushing forward on immigration reform.

She said Obama didn’t have the “chits” and hadn’t built the necessary relationships on Capitol Hill to have key Members in a GOP-controlled House risk political capital for him on immigration. Navarro said she doesn’t think a President Romney, facing re-election in 2016, would want “a battle with conservative Republicans” on the issue. That would leave a closely divided Senate and a Republican-controlled House to get the issue moving.

“The truth: Unless we see Congressional leaders step up to the plate to get immigration done, I don’t think either Obama or Romney will be able to advance big, bold comprehensive immigration reform,” she said.

And given the conservative tilt of the House, that might be a stretch.

House Republican leadership aides acknowledge privately that there is a legitimate willingness to tackle immigration at some point, especially given the growing importance of the Latino vote in presidential elections and the seemingly exponential growth of the Hispanic population.

Still, one leadership aide noted that while many think the conventional wisdom points toward an immigration reform vote in the 113th Congress, that might not happen. So much rides on the outcome of the elections and the will of the next Congress to tackle such a divisive issue.

Indeed, since 2007, when Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), then-Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and others spearheaded an attempt at an immigration reform bill, the issue has been nothing more than a political football.

Items such as the DREAM Act and an E-Verify bill have been blocked in Congress during the past few years as they proved either too controversial to move or were held back because they would be more useful as negotiating tools. 

Talks broke down last month on a bill to grant visas to high-skilled immigrants even though both sides seemingly wanted to resolve the matter. In the end, the issue became little more than a political show vote, and the measure, the STEM Jobs Act, fell short of passing the House on a 257-158 vote under a suspension of the rules. Leading up to the vote, the White House had been urging K Street groups to oppose the bill and wait for a bipartisan version at another time.

A big question mark in the House will be the current freshman class, many of whom are poised to return to the 113th Congress.

“There’s more of an appetite for legal immigration reform,” a conservative freshman Republican Member of Congress said. 

“There’s a huge opportunity there because it relates to job creation and it relates to competitiveness,” the Member said, noting the STEM Jobs bill. “When you get into the illegal side, a lot of us say: Demonstrate to us that you’re actually securing the border.” 

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