Republicans in Congress Stall Immigration Reform

Hotel Voice — February 19, 2014

Some 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S. will have to keep waiting for any kind of federal immigration reform, after House Speaker John Boehner broke his promise this week to bring the issue up for a vote.

The immigration reform proposal offered by Boehner and his fellow Republicans wasn’t perfect. For one thing, it did not provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers. But it did offer a chance for legal status, at least eliminating the fear of deportation for the millions who would have been eligible to participate in the legalization process.

Democrats weren’t happy with the failure of the Republicans’ proposed bill to provide the undocumented with a chance to become citizens. But many were nevertheless willing to support the GOP plan as a way to at least end the fear of deportation and eliminate the forced separation of families. Boehner indicated that he would introduce the bill in the House by the Spring and there were clear indications that the Senate, which has already passed a more progressive immigration reform bill, would pass Boehner’s bill as well, thus allowing it to become law It appeared that before the end of the year the U.S. would finally have some form of immigration reform.

Suddenly, however, Boehner announced this week that the Republicans’ proposed bill on immigration reform would not come up for a vote in the House of Representatives. He said the reason for this was that even if the law was enacted President Obama could not be trusted to enforce it. It was a dishonest political cheap shot that stunned even the most cynical observers in Washington, DC.

“There’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws,” Boehner said, in announcing the about-face. “And it’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”

Boehner made it clear that the immigration reform issue was dead in the House of Representatives at least until after this year’s elections. His stated reason for the change in his position was quickly echoed by other Republicans, each of them making the absurd claim that President Obama can’t be trusted to enforce any enacted immigration reform.

The true reason why Boehner reneged on his promise is that there were complaints from members of the Tea Party wing of the GOP who don’t want to see any type of immigration reform. Boehner, who earlier had caved in to Tea Party demands to shut down the government, once again gave in to the GOP’s far right wing, this time to halt the effort to enact immigration reform.

The White House expressed disappointment in the Republicans’ position and responded to the ridiculous charge that President Obama would not enforce the law. “The challenges within the Republican Party on this issue are well-known, and they certainly don’t have anything to do with the president,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney.

Other Democrats responded to Boehner’s U-turn on immigration reform, and New York’s Senator Chuck Schumer was among them. Schumer said that the charge that President Obama couldn’t be trusted to enforce the law was nonsense, noting that the Obama administration had deported 2 million undocumented people in the last five years, more than any other U.S. President. Then, Schumer publicly called Boehner's bluff. He offered a compromise. He proposed passing an immigration reform law this year, but not allowing it to actually begin until 2017—when President Barack Obama leaves office. Even though Schumer’s proposal takes away from Republicans their contrived excuse that President Obama would not enforce the law, they have yet to respond to his suggestion.

The chain of events regarding immigration reform is a perfect example of why Congress has record disapproval ratings from the American public. In a recent Gallup poll only nine percent (9%) of the American public approved of the job Congress was doing and a CBS poll this week put the public’s Congressional approval rating at a dismal 12 percent (12%). This heavy disapproval of Congress is no doubt due to the gridlock that has caused less legislation to be passed than ever before. In the case of immigration reform, the Democrats proposed a bill, the Republicans countered with their own bill, the Democrats agreed to pass the Republican bill and, quite remarkably, the Republicans responded by opposing their own legislation! In the meantime, 11 million undocumented workers continue to live in the shadows rather than being allowed to enter the American mainstream.

“It is so unfortunate that millions of families waiting for legalization will now have to wait longer,” Peter Ward told Hotel Voice this week. “The failure to enact immigration reform not only injures undocumented workers it hurts our nation’s economy as a whole. It is a disgrace that Congress can’t get together and pass this legislation because of the Tea Party minority.”

It should be noted that the legislation proposed for immigration reform does not provide undocumented workers with a free ride, a passport to riches or an unfettered right to take advantage of federal programs, as Tea Party zealots and other conservatives claim. The major goal of the legislation is to greatly reduce future illegal immigration. It calls for stricter controls of the country’s borders through improved technology and the hiring of additional border personnel. It calls for a fraud-proof biomedical identification system. It calls for quick and required registration of the undocumented—once the law takes effect—that will include background checks and the payment of any back taxes. The undocumented will also have to learn English over eight years and agree to pay a fine for entering the country illegally.

The Democrats’ plan provides a pathway to citizenship, while the Republican proposal does not. And while both political parties’ proposals call for a few somewhat difficult measures such as paying a fine and a requirement to learn English, they also will end the fear of deportation and keep families together. Considering these facts, it is indeed unfortunate that Republicans have once again stalled the process of immigration reform.

We should also emphasize that the continuing failure to enact immigration reform is doing severe damage to the U.S. economy. As we reported in Hotel Voice last year, even the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) believes that immigration reform would improve the nation’s entire economic picture. The CBO estimates that immigration reform would generate an additional $1.5 trillion for the U.S. economy over 10 years and would raise the wages of all low income workers, even those born in the U.S.

The CBO and several independent studies also say that fixing our nation’s broken immigration system will create more jobs. “Raising the Floor for American Workers,” a comprehensive study on the potential impact of immigration reform, says it would generate up to $36 billion in net personal income and enough consumer spending to support 750,000 to 900,000 new jobs.

That’s not all. It is estimated that immigration reform would add over $100 billion in extra tax revenue for federal, state and local governments over the next 10 years. It would also result in a sharp reduction in wage theft for not only immigrant workers but for U.S.-born employees as well, according to the Immigration Policy Center.

There are still other benefits for all U.S. workers in repairing the immigration system. Workers’ rights—including the right to join a union—will be strengthened, because undocumented workers would no longer have to fear being reported to the authorities for exercising their workplace rights. This, in turn, would also strengthen unions. After all, legalizing the estimated 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S. would also provide them with the protections offered by U.S. labor law.

Still another benefit of immigration reform—one emphasized by Peter Ward last year—is that businesses that play by the rules—like the hotels and restaurants that employ the members of our Union—will no longer have a competitive disadvantage against the many unscrupulous employers who use undocumented workers so that they can pay low wages and avoid paying F.I.C.A. taxes and unemployment and workers compensation insurance.

Obviously, there are benefits for our entire country if Congress would enact immigration reform. Instead, current U.S. immigration policy breaks up families, creates low-wage and unsafe jobs, stifles opportunity for millions, hurts our economy and weakens our tax base. And yet because of a small minority of Tea Party fanatics, it looks like things will stay that way for the foreseeable future.

Photograph Courtesy of Boss Tweed. For license terms of this photograph click here: