Immigration reform advocates told, again, to be patient

Chris Moody
Yahoo News
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Demonstrators march towards Capitol Hill during a immigration rally and march in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Now that the government has reopened, immigration reform activists are preparing another push to encourage lawmakers to overhaul federal immigration laws, but it is clear that they won’t be able to convince the Republican-led House to act quickly.

Five months after the Senate passed a bipartisan package, the House appears to be in little rush to act. And those who support a comprehensive bill one that would combine border security with a path to citizenship for up to 11 million unlawful immigrants know that time is not one their side.

The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Republican immigration attorney Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, has been steadily working through a series of small proposals that emphasize border security, but there are no plans to take up a single, comprehensive bill like the Senate. Republican House Speaker John Boehner has signaled his intention to move on immigration bills that can pass the House with support from a majority of House Republicans, but he has not provided a time frame for the votes.

The lack of immediate action has left immigration reformers on the left and right anxious about the possibility of a bill becoming law during the current congressional session. The beginning of the midterm election season early next year could easily scare enough lawmakers seeking re-election away from taking a stand on such a contentious issue. If the package is not finalized by the end of this year — and the limited time on the House calendar suggests that it won’t — immigration could be pushed back as far as spring 2015, one Republican House leadership aide told Yahoo News.

Groups outside of Congress are more optimistic.

Next week, 400 right-leaning political activists are planning a lobby day on Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to act. The groups organizing the event aren’t new to the immigration issue — they include Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the American Conservative Union and the Southern Baptist Convention to name a few — but the renewed push reveals a sense urgency.

American Conservative Union chairman Al Cardenas told Yahoo News in an interview that Republican House leaders have assured him that they are working toward an immigration product, albeit slowly.

“If you went by new reports, most people would conclude that this process is not headed in the right direction. I have absolutely the opposite perspective after meeting with leadership and Chairman Goodlatte and others,” Cardenas said. “The speaker’s made a commitment and he’s not going to change. They’re doing this their way doing it in regular order through a piecemeal process, at some point in time consolidating these bills. But I don’t believe there’s an animus to change that. I believe they’ll get it done before this spring.”

Conservatives should, he added, support a plan that includes “legalizing folks who are here and are not documented.”

Meanwhile, immigration overhaul supporters who are aligned with liberal groups held several events nationwide during the government shutdown.

President Barack Obama, too, has started a public outreach campaign to pressure Congress into action.

"There are going to be moments where you meet resistance and the press will declare something dead that it's not going to happen,” Obama said Thursday from the White House. “That can be overcome."