Path to immigration reform is paved by filibuster reform

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The filibuster even threatens to distort the starting point of the immigration reform talks. Without reform, we could risk deserting a real path to citizenship on the side of the road while guest worker programs are simply enhanced. How? Just look at what happened during the fiscal cliff debate. The White House was forced to negotiate with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- not Senate Majority Leader Reid -- because it believed Democrats fell short of the 60 votes needed to clear a filibuster. As a result, the starting point for negotiating the deal was not the Obama campaign promise of tax increases on incomes above $250,000. It was $400,000.
 



It doesn’t matter if there’s Democrat or Republican in the White House. Again and again, immigration reform has been a victim of the Senate’s dysfunction.


In 2007, President George W. Bush fought for a comprehensive bill that would have created a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants while securing the nation’s borders. But his effort to overhaul the nation's immigration policy fell 15 Senate votes short of the 60 needed to cut off floor debate and move toward a final vote. Voter shave enthusiastically supported the legislation, but as Reid acknowledged at the time, "The problem was on the inside of this Senate chamber.” At the urging of the president, the bill was brought back to the Senate two weeks later for more discussion, but again failed to win the make-or-break cloture vote, killing it for good.
 


In 2010, under Obama, the DREAM Act, a bill that would create a path to citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants who attend college and serve in the military, also died in the Senate. It fell 5 votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a Republican-led filibuster.
 


But on Jan. 22, the Senate has the opportunity to put filibuster reform on the table and create a chamber that will actually tackle immigration legislation head on. Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Tom Udall (N.M.) and Tom Harkin (Iowa) have proposed a filibuster reform package that requires a “talking filibuster,” so that Senators would be required to hold the floor and debate their position for the record. Their resolutions also call for the elimination of filibusters on the motion to proceed, removing an unnecessary obstacle to getting legislation to a final vote.


We want to hear filibustering Republicans actually talk and voice their opinions on immigration reform legislation. In the wake of the drubbing they took from Latino voters in the 2012 election cycle, a real legislative debate would force Republicans to either publically endorse the Grand Old Party of Intolerance or get on board with reforms. We want to make obstructionists take the floor and actually admit that for the first time ever in this country, there’s no American Dream for immigrants.


If the Senate does not pass real filibuster reform, our potential for winning meaningful change that truly addresses the dreams of millions of families will be curtailed.  There are more than 11 million lives hanging in the balance.

Cohen is president of CWA and Bhargava is executive director of Center for Community Change.