It’s the start of a new year, Congress is back in session, and people are, of course, asking me for the scoop on the prospects of immigration reform. I’m feeling good about 2014. Here are four reasons why.
1. Budget deal reached
Before Christmas, the House and Senate came together to pass an $85 billion budget that will guide federal spending through the fall of 2015. The budget was one of the issues that took Congress’ focus from immigration reform this fall, and another issue that had the parties sharply divided. The deal required compromise from both sides – higher spending than many conservatives would have liked, but also an end to unemployment insurance that Democrats hoped to extend. The bipartisan deal is a sign that it’s possible to bring both sides together on an important issue.
2. Speaker Boehner’s quiet shift
In the first week of December, House Speaker Boehner took a quiet, but big step that showed that he is serious about immigration reform. Included in an announcement about several staffing changes in his office was the news that Rebecca Tallent had joined his staff. Ms. Tallent was the director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, and previously Chief of Staff for Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who, with the late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, championed immigration reform for over a decade. She is an expert on immigration policy, and a high profile player in the reform effort. This staffing decision is a sign that the Speaker intends immigration reform to be part of his 2014 agenda.
3. President Obama’s continued support
Since campaigning on this issue, the President has supported comprehensive immigration reform – with all fixes and new programs encompassed in one bill – similar to the one the Senate passed in June. However, it’s been made very clear that the House will not consider the Senate’s bill. Instead, that chamber has taken up important parts of the broken immigration system and developed separate, smaller bills. In an effort to make sure something passes this year, the President has changed his stance and recently stated “If they want to chop that thing up into five pieces, as long as all five pieces get done, I don't care what it looks like, as long as it's actually delivering on those core values that we talk about.” It is clear that the President wants to move this issue forward however possible.
4. Power and diversity of movement
Many diverse groups have joined together to show their support for immigration reform. Traditionally conservative groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and other businesses have partnered labor unions and others. Faith groups including Catholics and Evangelicals continue to be a powerful, moral voice for reform. A national network of faith, law enforcement, and business leaders known as Bibles, Badges, and Business, has come together as a strong and driving force in the discussion. The movement is more vocal and creatively engaged than ever before.
National attention has been drawn to the issue through the Fast for Families. Fasters on the National Mall went without food – some for as many as 22 days – to “move the compassion” of leaders on Capitol Hill in a call for immigration reform and citizenship. Political leaders showed their support in person, including President and Mrs. Obama, Vice President Biden, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, and Rev. Al Sharpton. Many other senators, congressional representatives, and local elected officials across the country issued statements and even fasted themselves. Advocates are well coordinated in their communications and legislative strategies and continue to make their voices heard.
Congress is back in session this week, and members will be back in their home districts for the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. Together with the Justice for Immigrants Campaign, I urge you all to take the opportunity to tell your representatives how important immigration reform is to you and to your community. Take a minute to send a postcard electronically though the Justice for Immigrants Campaign and participate in other National Migration Week activities in your area. For more information on comprehensive immigration reform and what it will mean for community-based legal service providers, visit https://cliniclegal.org/resources/guides-reports-publications/comprehensive-immigration-reform-cir-resources.
*Allison Posner is Director of Advocacy for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC)