With Senate passage late last month of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, the focus of the immigration reform effort has shifted to the House of Representatives. While some supporters of reform called for the House to take up the Senate bill and pass it swiftly, that was never really a plausible option. The House is a coequal chamber of Congress and it would consider the immigration issue in its own way. The hope is that the path the House takes will ultimately result in legislation that can be signed into law by the President.
This week, House Republicans convened a conference meeting to consider ways to deal with immigration reform. While the meeting was more of an airing of opinions and did not result in any consensus, news reports tended to portray the meeting in a pessimistic light as members voiced support for Speaker Boehner’s position of not taking up the Senate bill and instead taking a piecemeal approach of considering separate components of immigration reform in individual bills. This may signify a bleak outlook for the “swift House passage of the Senate bill” scenario hoped for by some, but not necessarily for the reform effort itself. House Republican leaders acknowledged the need to address the issue, just in their own way and on their own timetable. Continued discussion and engagement by House Republicans on immigration reform may yet lead to a House version of reform that can be put up beside the Senate bill in a conference committee.
In a bicameral system with each chamber controlled by opposing parties, it is unsurprising that the House would assert its privileges and go its own way. The process in the House looks likely to be longer and more arduous than what was done in the Senate. This is not cause for complete despair but simply a reality check reminding us of how difficult this issue is (there is a reason comprehensive reform has not happened since 1986). The ultimate goal is to have an immigration reform bill that at long last addresses the broken skilled immigration system and enables the U.S. technology industry to have access to skilled foreign workers and entrepreneurs. Whatever path the House decides to take, we need that path to lead to such a bill being signed into law.