The New Windows for Immigration Reform -- in 2014 and Beyond

A realistic timetable on immigration reform is years, not months.

September 24, 2013, 4:58 PM
PHOTO: flag
Maglena Gomez waves an American flag as she and others participate in a march that organizers said was an attempt to get the U.S. Congress to say yes to immigration reform on April 6, 2013 in Miami, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Sept. 25, 2013— -- There are a lot of factors conspiring against immigration reform in 2013, like the vanishing number of days left on the congressional calendar and a lack of appetite for a bill among moderate Republicans.

That isn’t stopping House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who reportedly plans to offer a version of the Senate immigration bill in early October.

But the odds of any comprehensive legislation getting passed this year are slim, according to Karthick Ramakrishnan, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside.

The main stumbling block: Republican primaries.

“The chances of this happening before the Republican primaries in 2014 are very low,” he said. “No incumbent wants to have to explain a vote on immigration facing a primary challenger.”

Ramakrishnan sees three main windows to pass an immigration bill -- and they’re all in 2014 or 2016.

1. After the 2014 Republican primaries, but before the general election

As we said before, the primaries could make moderate Republicans shy about voting for an immigration bill, especially if the legislation isn’t backed by House leadership.

Incumbents could feel more comfortable voting for an immigration bill after surviving a primary.

2. The 2016 presidential election

If the Republicans follow their new national strategy, the next presidential candidate they field will want to appeal to more Hispanic and Asian voters. Immigration reform could be a way to do that.

Ramakrishnan: “You will have someone running for president who has to make headway in the Latino vote, who will probably be making much more moderate statements and probably putting rhetorical pressure on more moderate Republicans in the House.”

3. If the House goes blue in 2014 or 2016

If Democrats take control of the House and retain control of the Senate, the road to an immigration bill that legalizes undocumented immigrants would be much easier.

The takeaway

This doesn’t mean that Pelosi’s bill has no chance. If she can score Republican cosponsors or get support from Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), a bill could pass.

Ramakrishnan sees the move as more political than practical, though: “This is another opportunity for the Democrats to kind of publically test what the commitment is among Republican House members.”