The August recess was widely noted by immigration reform advocates — including President Barack Obama — as the deadline to pass immigration reform legislation in the House of Representatives.
But clearly, that deadline won’t be met, which has some advocates concerned.
“We had asked that there be immigration reform legislation passed by August 2 and we still don’t see a whole lot of legislative movement — that’s really distressing,” said Kica Matos, spokesperson for Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM).
Advocates, like Matos, had hoped that the House would pick up speed in addressing immigration reform after the Senate approved its sweeping immigration reform bill in late June. But in the entire month of July, the House didn’t consider any new immigration bills and it only held two committee hearings related to immigration reform.
Last week, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to address the immigration status of undocumented young immigrants and the Homeland Security subcommittee held a separate hearing to address border security. No other hearings are scheduled in the upcoming days.
It could be a while before House votes on immigration bills
Legislative action on immigration reform is expected to pick up in the House, but not until after members of Congress come back from their month-long summer recess — or maybe even longer.
The House bipartisan group plans to release its comprehensive immigration reform bill sometime in September. Members of the group had hoped to release it before the August recess but they feared it wouldn’t give them enough time to educate the public and their House colleagues about the bill.
It’s unclear what will happen to the group’s immigration bill now that House Republicans are choosing to take up smaller immigration bills instead of one sweeping bill.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), key immigration reform negotiator, said at a town hall meeting last Friday that the House could start voting on some of those smaller immigration bills, including one to legalize undocumented immigrants, until October.
“Tentatively, October, we’re going to vote on these bills,” Ryan said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We’re going to vote on a border security bill, we’re going to vote on an interior enforcement bill, like the workplace verification and the visa tracking. We’re going to vote on a legal immigration bill for visas, for agricultural workers, for skilled workers.”
Ryan’s comments indicate that immigration reform is likely to take the back seat in September, when members of Congress return for nine days after their August recess. House members will likely be spending much of those nine days attempting to reach an agreement on how to fund the federal government.
But that isn’t stopping advocates, like Clarissa Martinez of the National Council of La Raza, from urging House members to take legislative action on immigration reform in September.
“The expectation is going to be that they should hit the ground running once they return from recess,” Martinez, who is NCLR’s director of immigration and civic engagement, told VOXXI.
She added that August is going to be an “incredibly important” month when members of Congress will face even more pressure to pass immigration reform legislation.
“They will hear from not only pro-immigrant voices but also business leaders and many others,” Martinez said.
House Republicans changing tone on immigration reform
While there wasn’t much legislative action on immigration reform in July, advocates said they’ve noticed a change in the way House Republicans address immigration reform.
Perhaps Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte best exemplify this change. The two House Republicans once opposed allowing any group of undocumented immigrants a chance to become U.S. citizens. Now, the two Republicans are working on legislation — called the KIDS Act — that would pave a path to citizenship for undocumented youth. This is an idea that is starting to pick up support among House GOP leaders.
But Julieta Garibay, a legislative affairs associate with United We Dream, said the KIDS Act falls short of what her group and others are pushing for.
“They need to open up their eyes and see the reality,” she said of House Republicans. “If they want to move forward as a party, they need to support a path to citizenship for all the 11 million, not just Dreamers.”
Lia Parada, legislative director at America’s Voice, said: “We’ve seen a change among the House Republicans, but it’s not exactly where we would like to be.”
Parada said her group would like to see the House take up a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a path to citizenship, rather than any of the four bills the House Judiciary Committee has approved so far.
One of the bills she referred to is the SAFE Act, which stands for Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act. That bill would allow states to enact and enforce their own immigration laws, as well as allow local police officers to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law.
For Matos, the change among House Republicans is encouraging but it’s also not enough.
“We want movement. We want a plan. We want to know that the House leadership is committed to moving legislation forward,” she told VOXXI. “We want to see game, and so far, we’ve seen no game.”