Immigration reform: Conventional wisdom versus reality

First, the U.S. immigration system desperately needs reforms that buttress the pace of economic growth and job creation, enhance border and internal security, and resolve the legal status of many workers and employers.  Immigration reform is a step toward a better future.  Yet, achieving it will be full of hard calls on security, employer rights and obligations, appropriate penalties, legal lines that must be drawn, choices on sectoral economic policies, and fundamental visa reforms.  Accordingly, finding consensus will not be quick – but the success of a lengthy and complicated legislative task will be well worth the investment of time, energy and resources.
 
Second, on the immediate heels of Senate passage and public praise for the bipartisan effort many advocates assumed that passage in the House was the automatic sequel. While it is true that the Senate-passed bill will not merit a floor vote in the House, nor should it, and the process will not be a mad dash to beat the August recess deadline, House members expect that the various issues within immigration reform deserve serious, individual scrutiny. As such, House consideration will track a step-by-step methodical approach that separates border security, employer verification, visa reform, and other components into separate bills.  The process will differ, but the pursuit of serious reform will remain the objective.
 
Third, House members are looking to listen and learn from what their constituents are saying. For example, in a recent poll of Republican primary voters commissioned by my think tank’s sister organization, the American Action Network, 76 percent had heard of the Senate proposal and 53 percent opposed it. Yet, 51 percent favor passage of “generic comprehensive immigration reform” (only 26 percent oppose) and moreover, 59 percent of Republicans favor an “earned pathway to legal status.”
 

ADVERTISEMENT
That stands in sharp contrast to a bloc of “just say no” (JSN) members in the House, the most notable of which is Steve King (R) of Iowa.  While the media suggests that the opposition of a minority of House members is the death knell of immigration reform, the reality for these members – and the good news for immigration reform advocates – is that constituents of the JSN caucus are saying yes to immigration reform.  A recent poll of King’s district (Iowa’s 4th) shows that 68 percent of voters support an “earned pathway to legal status,” and 69 percent of voters said they support “comprehensive immigration reform,” (just 17 percent are opposed).
 
In contrast to the conventional wisdom, when the JSN caucus goes home in August, their constituents, neighbors, and allies may very well ask why they oppose reform. Hopefully, when these members return to Washington in September, they will strike a different, more productive tone.
 
The fact is the House will work to improve and strengthen the Senate bill over the coming months, in part because they are listening to folks back home.  That is a far cry from the conventional wisdom that the House will kill immigration reform – and even further from the cynical notion that it will pass anything for cheap political gain.
 
In short, immigration reform is alive in the House because it’s good policy. While some may balk at engaging in debate on any measure short of a full-throated reprise of the Senate bill, what’s important is not the process but the legislative outcome.
 
The majority of thoughtful legislators on both sides of the aisle want to strengthen America’s immigration policies. To get this right may take a little longer.  But the path to reform runs through good policy, not fringe elements, and a keeping a tight focus on policy will allow the politics to align.

Holtz-Eakin is an economist, former director of the Congressional Budget Office and current president of the American Action Forum.