John Boehner has quashed what lingering hope remains of Congress reaching agreement this year on immigration policy. The House speaker said on Wednesday that he has “no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill.” The stance of the House Republican leadership guarantees there will be no advance in resolving pressing issues in immigration, in particular, what to do about the estimated 11 million immigrants who are living in this country with no documentation.
An immigration bill passed in the Senate in June with broad bipartisan backing, 68-32. The margin reflected an urgency among Republicans, driven by their mounting loss of Hispanic voters in the 2012 presidential election, to overhaul a frayed immigration system. The Senate put together a bill that included an arduous, 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, a status verification system for employees and a new visa program for guest workers. Border security also received additional funding.
The bill presented mostly reasonable compromises on contentious issues, following weeks of negotiations and floor debates. Boehner’s dismissive description of the Senate effort as “a 1,300-page bill no one had ever read” is unfortunate, especially as Boehner’s caucus itself shows little evidence it can find common ground, besides border enforcement, on difficult issues.
Boehner touts the House’s preference for a step-by-step approach, picking off specific issues in separate bills. For the speaker, the merit of the piecemeal approach is compelling enough. It allows him to put off the divisive issues that continue to stymie immigration reform. Sooner rather than later, Boehner’s House must find a way, as the Senate did, to accommodate 11 million residents who are not going anywhere and the conservative hard-liners who regard any proposal giving legal status to undocumented immigrants as “amnesty” and a nonstarter.