Opinion: The shared responsibility of immigration reform

By Guest Author

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By Kam Quarles

WASHINGTON, June 11, 2014 - The legislative days are fleeting for immigration reform.  Once Congress reaches its annual August recess, the deadline will arrive as the Obama Administration undoubtedly takes steps to address the issue.  That unilateral executive action, coming on the heels of Administration modifications of the Affordable Care Act, will doom any chances for immigration reform in 2014 and likely close the window until 2017.

In order to keep the effort alive, the House must move their vision of immigration reform before the summer session adjourns.  The substance of that legislation is much less important than the courage of the majority to take action and maintain momentum in the process.  This will provide both an opportunity for a conference and establish a glimmer of bipartisan and bicameral trust.

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Two essentials must be present in the House this summer in order to pass a bill.  Together they amount to a shared responsibility on immigration reform.

First, the House Republican leadership must decide upon what exactly will be brought to the floor and the method by which it will arrive.  There is no existing bill that has the necessary votes to make it to the floor and pass the House.  Therefore, the introduced bills must either be enhanced, an entirely new bill created or some combination of the two.

Once the Republican caucus can see the text of the viable bill, a real whip operation can begin.  However this must be a bipartisan whip operation.  There is no possibility that immigration reform can pass with purely Republican votes.  Already more than double the number of Republicans necessary to block partisan passage has publicly stated their intention to do just that, regardless of what the legislation entails.

This makes Democratic support the second key essential for success.  If the House leadership can deliver 120 votes to move a bill to the floor, they need to be met with the necessary number of Democrats to pass it. 

Clearly some voices will want to keep immigration reform as an issue for the 2014 and 2016 elections.  They will likely object to any imperfections in the House version and instead demand a vote on a companion measure to the Senate bill.  Those voices want the easy way out, much like some Republican counterparts who refuse to consider immigration reform before other unattainable goals are met.  That feigned stridence is simply the fear of taking a tough vote.

The strong unwavering path that Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (R-NC) took in support of immigration reform resulted in both members cruising to primary victories earlier this year.  Conversely, it appears that voters in Congressman Eric Cantor's district who overwhelmingly support action on immigration reform were confused by the campaign's conflicting messages on how to address the issue.

These next two months provide an opportunity for both parties to take an uncomfortable step toward bipartisanship in addressing a major issue of competitiveness for the country.  That path is vastly preferable to fumbling through several more years of broken policies, partisan bickering and the disconnection from a rapidly diversifying electorate.  

About the author: Kam Quarles is Director of Legislative Affairs for McDermott Will & Emery.  He has worked on food and agricultural policy issues for nearly two decades and serves as advisor to the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, a national organization representing agriculture's needs for immigration reform.

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