THE BLOG

Immigration, Congressional Inaction and Boehner

12/11/2013 06:08 pm ET | Updated Feb 10, 2014
  • Ryan Campbell Editor at DRM Capitol Group, Media Manager @DRMAction

As the year comes to a close, it is hard not to look back and weigh the political events of the previous 12 months. There have been shutdowns and lengthy filibusters of appointments but, mostly, the year is categorized by an inaction that we have never seen before. One piece of collateral damage of this intransigence has been immigration reform, which had so much momentum derailed in the House of Representatives.

Congress has only passed 55 laws so far this year, a record low. While the shutdown was incredibly unpopular with the public, it was applauded by Tea Party leaders like Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) and Ted Yoho (R-FL), who believed, despite every credible economist saying the opposite, that hitting the debt ceiling would "bring stability to the world markets."

The Tea Party wing of the GOP has been pressuring Speaker Boehner (R-OH) against immigration reform: Steve King (R-IA) hinted that he would change his high opinion of the speaker if he were to take up immigration, and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said he would consider challenging him for the Speakership if he took up immigration for a vote.

While the obstruction has become fierce, it was unforeseen: even Sean Hannity, in the shock of the overwhelming Democratic victory in November 2012, looked at the numbers and admitted that the GOP needed to tend to immigration reform. This sentiment was echoed across the conservative political landscape, and culminated in Reince Priebus' "Autopsy Report."

When the 2012 election was analyzed, the GOP realized that more than 70 percent of Asian voters and Latino voters, two groups intimately associated with immigration, voted for Obama. After that, it seemed obvious that they had to change the party platform on immigration from "self-deportation" to something more reasonable.

Between the political momentum from organizers and the power of the immigrant-friendly voter demographic numbers, it seemed immigration was inevitable: even a minor pause taken while gun regulation was briefly discussed in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings would not be able to put off immigration reform for long. Months later, Democrats, Republicans, the AFL-CIO, the Chamber of Commerce, immigrant rights advocates and many other groups representing a diverse coalition helped to craft the Gang of 8 immigration reform legislation that was put forward in the Senate and went through a rough committee process.

Despite passing the Senate with 68 votes, something rare for legislation in this era, the Gang of 8 immigration legislation was derailed by one man: John Boehner.

The Gang of 8 bill has enough votes in the House to pass, however, like any other legislation, it must be voted on in the House, and cannot be until the Speaker signs off on it. Immigration reform's passage will embarrass fringe Republicans who have been able to control politics by threatening members of Congress with bad press in front of their primary voters. Because of the this, desperate to retain some relevancy, the Tea Party wing of the GOP has worked overtime to pressure Boehner away from legislation which, if Boehner allowed a vote on it, would indicate how isolated the Tea Party is today.

"The deadlock has become pretty bad: even though we had so much momentum built up behind immigration and had some great organizing efforts this year, from United We Dream's Nogales family reunions through the border fence, to members of Congress being arrested in the National Mall, to Fast for Families, to the demonstrations where protestors stopped ICE busses, nothing was accomplished legislatively this year," said Erika Andiola. "Even though I was able to work as a staffer with Representative Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), I have decided to leave to fight my mother's deportation case full time. At first I was optimistic that I would be able to help my mother by organizing within Washington, but for now it seems that I can do more good for my mother, and for my community, outside of Washington than inside."

Next year is an election year, when legislative trends tend to align more with the wishes of voters. After a year of historically low law passage and shamefully transparent political games on immigration, how forgiving will voters be next year? Will the demands for action win out after the pendulum has swung so far in the direction of inaction be heard? How strongly will voters demand that those who are vulnerable move forward with immigration reform, and will they be prepared to vote them out if there is another year of inaction?

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