What are the chances for immigration reform in 2013?

October 27, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Just how significant is the announcement out of California that a Republican congressman will co-sponsor legislation providing a pathway to citizens for millions of undocumented people living in the country? Alan Gomez, who reports on immigration issues for USA Today, joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

HARI SREENIVASAN: For more about the chances for immigration reform this year, we are joined now from Washington by Alan  Gomez. He reports on immigration issues for USA Today.

First question Alan, how significant is this announcement by that California Republican Congressman yesterday that he will co-sponsor legislation with Democrats talking about immigration.

ALAN GOMEZ: If you’re a Democrat in the House it’s very significant. They are hoping he’s the first of several that are going come on board. They have a most-wanted list of about a couple dozen of Republicans that are interested in some sort of bill that includes a pathway to citizenship. But that’s always going to remain in the minority in the House.  There is a still that large conservative base of the House that’s uneasy about anything that contains a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s undocumented immigrants.

So it’s a big step for them. They’re seeing this as a way to push for an immigration package that includes that pathway.  They’re hoping to get the Speaker to do something along the lines of what we recently just saw with the shutdown where you had Democrats and a small group of House Republicans voting together to pass something.  But as I said there’s still that big chunk of the House that is resistant to this so it’s a small step but it’s a step in the right direction.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  So they need less than three dozen votes from Republicans to switch sides. Are there other pieces of legislation that are winding their way through about immigration?

ALAN GOMEZ:  Yes there are quite a few which is what makes things in the House so complicated as always. So you’ve got this bill. It’s a Democratic bill it’s got about 180 Democratic co-sponsors and now the one Republican one. And then you kind of move into the middle of the spectrum a little bit where you’ve got somebody like Darrell Issa, also from California, who should be introducing this week a bill that would allow the nation’s undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status for a period of six years. That would be sort of an intermediate way of approaching it and that’s what a lot of House Republicans have been interested in. Because they don’t want to see all 12 million as one big block, the want to split them up into little groups and then treat them differently.

On the other end of the spectrum what you’ve got is the House leadership and they have been pushing this piece by piece approach. So, they’ve been advancing smaller bills that deal with smaller sections of the immigration issue – so border security, more visas for high-tech workers, more visas for low-skilled workers. So they are trying to proceed with that so that they can address separate parts of the immigration issue without having to do it all at once.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So is this key idea of a pathway to citizenship likely to cause a similar rift inside the Republic Party between moderates and more conservative Republicans?

ALAN GOMEZ: Absolutely. We look at the immigration debate as it’s changed over the last year.  The magic number remains for Republicans the 27 percent of Hispanic voters that Mitt Romney got a year ago in the election. So when you look at the GOP from a national perspective –  Senator McCain, other Senators in the Republican Party who are thinking on the broader scale, the national scale, for them it’s very important to include something that includes a pathway to citizenship so that they can start having a better conversation with Hispanic voters. Who continue to increase, who continue to be a bigger portion of the electorate.

But at the same time when you look at these House members, a lot of them — just from 2010 to 2012 after redistricting — House Republicans represent 6.6 million fewer minorities. Now their districts are on average up to 75 percent white. So there are just dozens and dozens and dozens of House Republicans who have just a tiny, tiny fraction of minorities in their district. So for them this idea of the grander party trying to appeal to Hispanics is not as important for them. It doesn’t really resonate back in their home districts. So for them that’s not that important. So there’s a good chunk of that House that are resistant to anything that includes a pathway to citizenship — as many of them refer to it as amnesty — so there is going to absolutely be that friction.

So House Speaker Boehner is back where he seems to be a lot these days – trying to corral those very different sides of his caucus.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Very briefly what the likelihood. They have such a small window left.

ALAN GOMEZ: There’s only about 14 legislative days left in this calendar year. Obviously that can stretch into next year a little bit. The likelihood – if I knew that right now I’d be writing that story right now at my desk. It’s very difficult to get this through but they do have some time.

They have a lot of bills tee’d up and ready to go on the House floor ready to be voted on – so if it happens it could happen very quickly. We should know a lot more in the next couple of weeks.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Thanks for joining us.