When Rep. Luis Gutierrez flashed a red card at his Republican colleagues on Wednesday, he brought World Cup intensity to an immigration reform showdown that’s well into extra time.
“You’re done,” the Chicago Democrat said on the House floor. “Leave the field. Too many flagrant offenses and unfair attacks, and too little action. You’re out. Hit the showers. It’s the red card.”
This Friday, June 27, marks the one-year anniversary of a rare moment of consensus in Congress: the Senate passed a sweeping immigration reform bill with support from both Democrats and Republicans. That moment, however, was short lived.
The bill went nowhere in the House of Representatives. House Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), said the party couldn’t trust President Obama to enforce immigration law and refused to consider any legislation similar to what passed in the Senate.
From June 2013 to Boehner’s memorable exchange with Fusion’s Jorge Ramos this May, the top Republican has held firm that he won’t hold a vote on any immigration bill without a majority support of his members. And the rank-and-file never warmed to the idea of granting millions of undocumented immigrants a chance to earn citizenship.
Most who follow the debate have considered immigration reform a lost cause for months, but Democratic leaders in Congress are insisting there is still a chance to pass a bill.
Top-ranking Democrats held a press conference on Thursday to commemorate the passage of the Senate bill and cajole House GOP leaders to hold a vote before Congress adjourns in August. But after a year of giving the House room to work, their patience is almost up.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the authors of the Senate bill, told reporters that “hope springs eternal” for a House vote, but conceded the chances of that happening in the next month are “very small.”
With a sweeping immigration bill all but dead, attention has turned to what to do with the 11.7 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Immigrant-rights advocates are increasing their pressure on the president to act unilaterally to shield certain immigrants from deportation.
Gutierrez said Thursday that there’s no reason for Obama to wait until August recess to use his executive authority.
“As quickly as possible we believe the president should act,” he said.
Democratic leaders also said that’s a probable conclusion.
“I think the president, if there is no action taken in the next few weeks, is going to be impelled by his moral responsibility to act himself,” Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told a group of reporters on Thursday.
Such a move would provide temporary relief for some immigrants without legal status, similar to the deferred action program Obama enacted in 2012. It’s also sure to further inflame Republicans in Congress.
Boehner said this week he’s already preparing a lawsuit against Obama accusing him of abusing his powers to enact policy changes. And GOP leaders have blamed the mass influx of children from Central America crossing the border illegally on Obama’s policies.
“The environment for doing this is exceedingly difficult,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said of an immigration bill on Thursday at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
But even a year ago, Republicans in the House weren’t showing much interest in passing legislation. A working group of Democratic and Republican House members reportedly met and plotted the outlines of a bill last summer, but that coalition crumbled away in September.
Boehner, for his part, often spoke in favor of immigration reform but never allowed a vote on large-scale legislation to come to the floor.
In January, he referred to immigration reform as a “political football.” That might still be the case. Democrats will continue to hammer Republicans for ignoring the issue through the leadup to the midterm elections. And Republican accusations that the president’s policies are spurring illegal immigration could make it trickier for Obama to use his executive power to grant deportation relief to some immigrants.
The Senate’s immigration reform bill might be a faded memory at the moment. But the issue isn’t going away.