Skip to main content

Immigration reform would help GOP

By Tamar Jacoby, Special to CNN
updated 9:13 AM EDT, Tue October 22, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tamar Jacoby: After budget battle, GOP may be in no mood for immigration overhaul
  • But many in GOP favor legal status and have been working on reforms, she says
  • She says others refuse to do President Barack Obama any favor by addressing issue
  • Jacoby: GOP must take ownership, provide a strong conservative approach to reform

Editor's note: Tamar Jacoby is president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a national federation of small-business owners in favor of immigration reform.

(CNN) -- The government's open. Washington is back at work. House Republicans, licking their wounds, are asking themselves what's next. And President Barack Obama has thrown down the gauntlet: The top item on his agenda is immigration reform.

What are the chances that the House will now move ahead on immigration? The answer will have less to do with immigration than with how the budget battle has changed the larger political dynamic in Washington.

Tamar Jacoby
Tamar Jacoby

House Republicans' views on immigration are untested, and many advocates for reform believe they are implacably hostile. But the truth is Republican opinion has been evolving since the 2012 election. More and more House Republicans, perhaps the majority, know that reform is overdue and that the GOP must be part of the solution -- to remain competitive with Latino voters and because it's the right thing to do.

Individual lawmakers and essential staff continued to work on the issue even through the dark days of the shutdown. And members are coalescing around answers to the hardest of the hard questions: what to do about immigrants living in the United States illegally? House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is working on a bill that would create a path to citizenship for "Dreamers" brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

And one recent informal count found 84 House Republicans -- more than one third of the total -- in favor of legal status for the Dreamers' parents.

Bottom line: If it weren't for the rancor of the budget brawl, the House might be in a good place on immigration, with Republicans ready to move forward and pass a package of measures they could send to a conference with the Senate bill.

Opinion: Key to immigration reform -- worker visas

So what exactly is the fallout from the budget battle?

Lawmakers arrested at immigration rally
Germany's skilled immigration boom

Surprisingly, it appears to cut both ways -- both for and against the prospect of an immigration overhaul.

Even before the government reopened, two different factions were making their voices heard. Some, such as Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho -- an opponent of the budget deal but a strong proponent of immigration reform -- argued that the budget battle had made it hard, if not impossible, for House Republicans to reach a deal with Obama.

Others, such as Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois, who voted for the budget package, said it's time to get back to the give and take of governing -- time to sit down with Democrats and compromise, including on immigration.

Opinion: It's not Syria holding up immigration reform

Which of these two sentiments will prove stronger in the House? GOP lawmakers are reeling from their recent drubbing. Skepticism and negativity are at an all-time high. And it will take both kinds of champions -- tough-minded and accommodating -- to negotiate a deal. But if enough other Republicans agree with Schock and make their views known, that could empower leadership to open the way to consideration of some immigration bills.

A handful of hard-line conservatives -- the group that opposed the budget deal -- still hold enormous sway in the House. And just because Speaker John Boehner waived the so-called Hastert rule once -- bringing the legislation that ended the shutdown up for a vote when he knew it lacked support from the majority of the Republican majority -- doesn't mean he'll do that again anytime soon. The House Republican conference is only as strong as it is cohesive, and the majority-of-the-majority rule has proved a good way to maintain that power and cohesion.

Still, the complex dynamic that drives Republicans in the House may have shifted somewhat in the shutdown. Certainly you hear a lot more grumbling, in private and in public, about the power of the hard-line naysayers. Other members are tired of being held hostage. Many want to get on with governing, making deals on a wide range of issues. And a few, such as Schock, are starting to say so, even on TV.

Opinion: How Obama can clinch immigration deal

That's a ray of hope. But there's still another danger looming.

The one thing House Republicans are not going to do in the wake of the budget battle -- not on any issue, in any circumstances -- is a favor for Obama. And to the degree that immigration reform is seen as Obama's issue, it will be dead on arrival in the House.

The question for House Republicans, leadership and rank and file: Do they want to cede the issue to Obama? Can they afford to let him own it? More and more of the GOP grasps that that's a mistake. It's a disaster politically for the party and a mistake for the nation, which needs reform, urgently, for the sake of the economy and the rule of law.

What's needed in the House now is not a favor for Obama, but a strong conservative answer on one of the most vexing issues facing the nation.

Will House Republicans see it that way? Can they take ownership and move forward?

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tamar Jacoby.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:47 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
updated 5:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
updated 6:21 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
updated 10:17 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
updated 5:39 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
updated 7:12 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT