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Will 2014 yield immigration reform?

December 23, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Despite a push from President Obama for immigration reform, 2013 failed to yield any sweeping legislation. Judy Woodruff talks to Mark Hugo Lopez of the Pew Research Center, Tamar Jacoby of ImmigrationWorks USA, Angela Maria Kelley of the Center for American Progress and Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies.

GWEN IFILL: Can a year’s worth of failed negotiations on immigration reform yield clues to its prospects for 2014?

Judy Woodruff has that story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States undocumented, 2013 was supposed to be their year. The president called passing comprehensive reform a top priority. And Republicans and Democrats in the Senate came together in June to pass a bill, only to watch it die in the House.

Meanwhile, the president is facing pressure from his own party to stop deportation. Though that number could be down slightly this year, all told 1.9 million people have been deported since Mr. Obama took office. That is almost as high as President George W. Bush’s eight-year total.

We look at the big picture now with Mark Hugo Lopez. He’s director of Hispanic research at the Pew Research Center. Tamar Jacoby, the head of ImmigrationWorks USA, a federation of small business owners. Angela Maria Kelley, vice president of immigration policy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress. And Jessica Vaughan, she’s director of policy studies for the right-leaning Center for Immigration Studies.

And welcome to you all to the NewsHour.

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Angela Kelley, let me start with you.

What was 2013 like for undocumented immigrants in this country?

ANGELA KELLEY, Center for American Progress: So the Senate advanced the ball considerably down the field by passing this bill with such a resounding yes, given that you had so much Republican and Democratic support.

The valley, I would say, though, for the undocumented are the number of deportations, which are intense, and the separation of families and the ongoing fear that communities live with. And the undocumented don’t live in one apartment building all by themselves. We’re talking about this affecting 16 million Americans who live with someone who is undocumented.

So it is an issue that is an important one and I think will be resolved in the next year.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk about that.

Jessica Vaughan, how would you describe 2013 for undocumented immigrants in this country?

JESSICA VAUGHAN, Center for Immigration Studies: Well, I think they were filled with a lot of expectations that there could be legislation passing that would allow them to be legalized in this country.

But, ultimately, since that legislation really overreached tremendously, it hit a roadblock in the House of Representatives, which is looking for a way to reform immigration policy that’s going to meet the needs of Americans here in terms of making sure that they have enough economic opportunity, that their wages are not suppressed, and that the laws that are in place and that Congress is thinking about passing are actually going to be enforced, because the message that’s been sent by The Obama administration to people who are living here illegally is that They’re home-free once they get in, because through executive action, the administration has basically said that 90 percent of them are going to be immune from enforcement.

So that’s a very powerful intend difficult for people to stay and for more people to try to come, and that in fact is what we’re seeing and hearing from the border.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, given all that, Tamar, remind us what was in that Senate legislation that passed. Where does — where does it — where does it stand right now?

TAMAR JACOBY, ImmigrationWorks USA: It’s what’s been in every reform bill that’s been talked about for the past five years. There are three main pillars.

One is an answer for the 11 million. The Senate would give them a path to citizenship. You would have to pay your back taxes and work and go through a security check and you could get in line to be a citizen. You would get to it in about year 13 for most people.

There is tougher enforcement on the border, much tougher, tougher enforcement in the workplace. Every worker in America would have to — every person trying to get a job would have to go through the E-Verify system. And then there would be programs for high-skilled and low-skilled immigrants to come legally in the future.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, given that picture of where things stand right now, Mark Lopez, you at Pew have done — you’re doing — you’re studying opinion on immigration all the time. But you have just done a new study which has some really interesting results in terms of what all Americans think and what the undocumented think.

Tell us about you what found.

MARK HUGO LOPEZ, Pew Research Center: So we just conducted two surveys, one of Hispanics and one of Asian Americans, the two largest immigrant groups in the country.

What we found is we found that when we asked what is most important for undocumented immigrants, about half of Latinos, 55 percent, and about 49 percent of Asian Americans say relief from deportation, rather than a pathway to citizenship, is most important for that population, the undocumented immigrant population.

I think it’s important to note, however, that on specific policy proposals that have been proposed in Congress, there is broad support among Hispanics and among Asian Americans and also the general public for things like a pathway to citizenship, for example.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Kelley — let me come — sorry — Angela Kelley.

ANGELA KELLEY: I answer to both.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me come back to you. Given this picture of where the immigrants themselves stand, what they are thinking right now, what do you see that needs to happen in the House of Representatives?

ANGELA KELLEY: Yes. Yes. Sure.

I mean, look, the House is clearly circling around the issue and trying to figure out, the Republican leadership, what to do. The committees, the Judiciary Committee, Homeland Security Committee, have passed a number of small bills. There’s a lot of talk about other bills that they want to introduce, including one that would help undocumented youth, like the DREAM Act that you have seen talked about in the past.

So, I think they’re trying to hone in on how big, how small, do they move an immigration bill, that will happen Republican support, and have to have some Democratic support? And that’s — you know, the secret recipe for that I don’t think they have landed on yet, but it’s not a matter of a lack of will. I’m convinced that the Republican leadership and I think a majority of Republicans would support a legalization program.


ANGELA KELLEY: They may not all support a pathway to citizenship, but I think, look, we’re really closing in as far as I’m concerned on some of the last plays that will get us to — in the end zone.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me turn to Jessica Vaughan.

How do you see the state of play in the House of Representatives right now?

JESSICA VAUGHAN: Well, it’s going to be very, very tough, because you have on the one hand the — Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, saying things like just because someone is here illegally shouldn’t be reason for deportation, and the Republicans on the other side very concerned about the executive actions that the Obama administration has taken to suppress enforcement, and concerned about the number of new immigrants that would be allowed under the gang of eight plan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s a particular plan that was put forward.

JESSICA VAUGHAN: Right, that’s the Senate bill that passed, and concern about what can be done to deter people from trying to come in the first place and to shrink the size of the illegal population now living in the country.

So those are going to be really hard concerns to reconcile into — certainly one big piece of legislation. They would like to move slowly and make sure that enforcement measures are in place and working before moving on to some of these other questions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tamar Jacoby, given — I mean, Angela is saying the ground is ready for movement. We hear Jessica saying, no, there are going to be problems. How do you see this getting resolved/

TAMAR JACOBY: I side more with Angie.

I work closely with Republicans in the House, and I see more and more willingness and more and more readiness to do this, among leadership, which is obviously key, but also among the rank and file. Ordinary members who have been hesitant to go near it in the past, more and more of them understand we need to be part of the solution on this. We need to get it behind us for the good of the country and good of the party.

And I hear them talking about what Angie referred to, which is a path to not just citizenship, they are hesitant to go that far, but a path to what we just heard Mark say, immigrant support, which is a path to legal status.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, and Jessica Vaughan, if that’s what they are working on, how are the Republicans right now who are opposed to a path to citizenship going to respond?

JESSICA VAUGHAN: Well, I have to disagree.

I don’t think the sticking point is really this question of whether or not to give citizenship to people who are legalized. The question for Republicans is, how can we do better at enforcement so that we are not going to be facing this same problem before? How can we avoid the mistakes of the past which did legalization first followed by promises of enforcement?

They want to see that the laws that we have are being seriously enforced, and not just at the border, as the Obama administration is doing, but also in the interior of the country. And they want to examine our economic needs for things like guess-worker programmers, whether or not we need to tinker with the legal immigration flow, without disadvantaging Americans who are affected by this kind of legislation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Mark, you’re hearing what our different guests are saying could happen in the House.

MARK HUGO LOPEZ: Very interesting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What would the reaction be in the community of those who are undocumented, their family members and supporters, and among the broader American public if any one of these scenarios take place?

I mean, if there is an agreement that falls short, for example, of comprehensive reform, what kind of reaction are we looking at?

MARK HUGO LOPEZ: Well, among the general public, we found that there is broad support among both Republicans and Democrats for some form of legalization.

In other words, the undocumented should be allowed it to live in the U.S. legally. Those numbers are about like, for example, 70 percent or higher for Republicans and even higher for Democrats. Where there are some differences, though, is in what Jessica was just referring to, and that is a need for among Republicans, saying, the need for border enforcement first before legalization for the undocumented, while Democrats are more willing to say, yes, we can work on improving border enforcement, but at the same time we can grant legal status to those who are here illegally.

So there is broad support for legalization. The path to getting there, though, is somewhat different.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you see, Angela Kelley, this getting — you started out sounding optimistic.

ANGELA KELLEY: I am still there.


JUDY WOODRUFF: But we’re also hearing what some of the complications are. Given that, how do you see this circle being squared or square being circled?


Look, I think the genius is frankly in the Senate bill that passed, which includes a lot of border enforcement, As Tamara so correctly characterized, a tough interior enforcement program of E-Verify all employers would have to follow and everybody would have to prove that they are here legal to work.

And it also deals sensibly with the 11 million. You know, look, it’s not — it’s a long road that people get put on, but they have to keep their nose clean, follow the rules, and eventually they can naturalize and become citizens and swear their allegiance to this country.

I think that is a good thing. But, look, I think there is a sweet spot to be found. And it’s long overdue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, very, very quickly, Jessica Vaughan, in just a word, if something comes out of this that looks like that, what do you think happens in the House of Representatives?

JESSICA VAUGHAN: I think people need to get their expectations down, because anything that does pass is going to be very much smaller in scale.


TAMAR JACOBY: The House is not going to pass the Senate bill. The House is not going to pass a path to citizenship. The House is going to pass, if they pass something, a path to legal status.

And will be — it is not going to be easy to pass. And Jessica is right. It will have to have tough border security up front. And House members are worried about having to go to a conference with a Senate bill and what comes back looks a lot more like the Senate bill than what they passed, and then they have to vote up or down. But I still think, with all the difficulty, I’m with Angie on optimism.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I hear you, all four.

Thank you, Tamar Jacoby, Angela Maria, Kelley, Jessica Vaughan, and Mark Hugo Lopez. Thank you.