Skip to main content

Big surprise ahead in 2014

By Tamar Jacoby
updated 12:37 PM EST, Thu December 26, 2013
People rally in Washington in October in support of immigration reform. Tamar Jacoby says 2014 could be the year.
People rally in Washington in October in support of immigration reform. Tamar Jacoby says 2014 could be the year.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tamar Jacoby: At 2013 end, immigration reform seems dead, but it's not
  • She says the year brought big progress, support from CEOs, evangelicals, even GOP
  • She says change slow, but tectonic, likely won't include citizenship, but legal status
  • Jacoby: Can House GOP, Dems compromise? It will be tricky, but momentum building

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

(CNN) -- As 2013 comes to a close, the conventional wisdom is grim: Immigration reform is dead.

Expectations ran high; this was supposed to be the year. The President promised action, and the 2012 elections drove home the political imperative. But then, after struggling mightily, Congress failed to get it done -- again. It hardly matters whether you blame the President, House Republicans or the immigration-reform movement. There's still nothing to show for the year.

‎But once again, as so often with immigration, the conventional wisdom is wrong. Politics isn't baseball. The end of the year isn't the end of an inning, wiping out all gains that don't deliver a man across home plate. Passing landmark legislation is more like long-distance running: Momentum builds over the long haul, and progress is cumulative. From that perspective, 2013 was a banner year for immigration reform, and we could still win. Congress could pass a far-reaching immigration overhaul -- in 2014.

Tamar Jacoby
Tamar Jacoby

Start with the progress made in 2013. Most important was the sea change in the Republican Party. It started with the 2012 election and the difference Latino voters made for President Barack Obama, but the ferment spread and deepened as the truth sunk in among party regulars over the course of the year. Marquee figures like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie showed that the GOP can appeal to Latinos. He won 51% of their vote is his reelection bid in November.

Many, if not most, Republicans in Congress now grasp that they need to be part of the solution on immigration -- for the good of the party and the country. Just look at pronouncements in recent months by House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House GOP favorite Paul Ryan and many others, including some of Congress' most conservative Republicans.

The pro-immigration-reform movement also looks completely different today than it looked just 12 months ago. A Who's Who of American business leaders has come forward to endorse change: from Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg to the Wall Street Journal's blue chip CEO Council.

Unlike in years past, when most employers hid from the debate, or at best worked the issue quietly behind the scenes, many companies are now eager to link their names with immigration reform: well-known national companies like Caterpillar, Marriott and State Farm Insurance, but also local mom-and-pop businesses like the 100 small business owners from Clark County Washington who organized this summer to post pro-reform flyers in their shop windows.

Obama heckled at immigration speech
Only GOP co-sponsor of immigration bill
Rubio: We need Obamacare penalty delay

Along with business, there has been an outpouring of support from evangelical ministers. One Washington-based group, the Evangelical Immigration Table, claims to have more than 200,000 Christian "prayer partners" lined up nationwide. The broader immigration-reform movement doesn't always act in its own self-interest: why, for example, the recent Capitol Hill protest aimed at Eric Cantor -- one of the leading Republican champions of an immigration overhaul? But together, business and faith voices make a powerful case for reform that combines the economic rationale with a moral imperative.

Most important, neither of these changes -- in the Republican Party or the pro-reform movement -- is reversible. This is a shifting of tectonic plates. When much of the national GOP, the business establishment and the evangelical movement want something done, it's probably going to get done eventually. The question isn't if, it's when.

So what's blocking reform? The obstacles have little to do with immigration. The problem is the same-old-same-old that's been blocking virtually all movement in Washington this year. It falls under the general rubric of partisan gridlock, but the real sticking points are more localized: bitter mistrust between House Republicans and the White House, and a divide within the GOP driven by a relatively small handful of lawmakers and outside groups who oppose compromise of any kind on any issue.

The good news is that this month's budget deal suggests that the logjam may be breaking up. Together, Speaker Boehner and Rep. Ryan defied the "Hell no" holdout wing of their party and delivered a compromise budget, even at a time of peak Republican mistrust and antipathy for the president. This doesn't mean the GOP divide has healed -- there were plenty of Republicans who opposed the budget deal or went along despite their better judgment. But the vote has raised hope among immigration reformers. Can Speaker Boehner and Rep. Ryan pull off a similar deal next year on immigration?

Many signs suggest they could, including what's going on behind the scenes among House Republicans. It's well known that two different GOP lawmakers are working, separately, on bills that would create a path to citizenship for young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children, the "Dreamers."

And several other Republicans are working on proposals that would grant legal status to the Dreamers' parents. In other words, more than a half dozen GOP congressmen are preparing to sponsor -- or compete to sponsor -- what many in the party would once have called "amnesty" bills.

Some caveats: House leadership is not going to pass immigration reform over the heads of conservative Republicans. It will pass it only with them -- with their support. The House is not going to take up the Senate immigration bill. Any movement in the House will be piecemeal, smaller measure by smaller measure, each addressing a different aspect of what's wrong with the immigration system. Leadership is not going to waive what's known as the Hastert rule, under which every bill that passes must command a majority of the majority -- at least 118 Republican votes. And there will be no path to citizenship for most unauthorized immigrant adults -- it's going to be enough of a stretch for the House to deliver a path to legal status that stops short of citizenship.

Even this will be difficult in an election year. The windows to act will be narrow. Members will be even more cautious and calculating than usual. And getting reform over the finish line will be a test for Democrats as well as Republicans. The challenge for the GOP will be to pass a package of bills out of the House. The challenge for Democrats, in Congress and the White House, will be coming together for a deal on legal status rather than citizenship for most unauthorized immigrants.

It's going to be a long year. Nothing is guaranteed. But what makes me optimistic is a growing sense of momentum. It's still slow and low-key, more apparent behind the scenes than in public or in the media. But there's no question: Momentum is building in the House -- 2014 could be the year.

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 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 10:24 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 9:54 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT