A.B. Stoddard: Time has come for reform

Partisan acrimony is at fever pitch, the campaign for congressional midterm elections is in high gear and the president’s signature accomplishment, the unpopular healthcare law, could cost his party dearly in November. But at the most unlikely hour, people in both parties are working quietly together to solve an enormous problem.

In this atmosphere it’s nothing short of staggering that Republicans and Democrats are working earnestly on reforming the nation’s broken immigration. As an issue that has died many deaths, immigration reform remains politically toxic. Despite a new and broader coalition of business interests and evangelical Christians that has united with the traditional Democratic advocates of reform, there are conservatives on the right and liberal foes among organized labor who still strongly oppose reform.

If the two sides defy the odds this year, it’s clear there will be no “wins” for either side — Democrats aren’t likely to see a “comprehensive” package of reforms containing a path to citizenship, while immigration opponents are likely to see a new form of legalization for undocumented workers they will still label “amnesty.”

Though a bill passed by the Senate last summer was bipartisan and passed 68-32, the reaction from many conservatives was swift and unforgiving. Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioFormer Florida congressmen mull bipartisan gubernatorial run: report Winners and losers from Jim Bridenstine’s confirmation as NASA administrator GOP Senate candidates trade barbs in brutal Indiana primary MORE (R-Fla.), who led the charge, was mocked on the cover of National Review under the headline “Rubio’s Folly.”

Still others believe the GOP must neutralize the party’s deficit with Latinos in advance of the 2016 primaries, having concluded the Democrats’ advantage among Latinos will become increasingly decisive in coming presidential elections. Pressure is not only arising from political leaders in the GOP but from the states themselves, which have taken the issue on in absence of federal action. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 437 separate, immigration-related laws were passed just last year. The country is well on its way to having dozens of separate systems.

The Obama administration is not only urging activists to refrain from attacks, but has now indicated there will be no arrows slung from the rostrum on the issue Tuesday night when the president gives his State of the Union address. For now, he is even withholding his “pen and phone” threats of executive action without the Congress. Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerA warning to Ryan’s successor: The Speakership is no cakewalk With Ryan out, let’s blow up the process for selecting the next Speaker Race for Republican Speaker rare chance to unify party for election MORE (R-Ohio) has hired a veteran immigration reform expert who once worked on the issue for Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainManchin, Donnelly back Pompeo This week: Senate barrels toward showdown over Pompeo Romney forced into GOP primary for Utah Senate nomination MORE (R-Ariz.).

In the grim gridlock of 2014, these are green shoots.


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.