By: Lauren Fox on 1/02/14
Optimism is mounting on Capitol Hill that 2014 may be the year for comprehensive immigration reform.
"Obviously, it is harder in an election year, but I don't think it is impossible," says Tamar Jacoby, the president and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA. "These things ripen and then something happens. It isn't always on some abstract calendar. The window will be short and it will be hard to make it happen, but there is a sense that this might be the time."
Despite a looming midterm election and a fiscal fight slated to hit this winter over raising the country's debt ceiling, immigration reform remains a top priority for the Republican Party as it attempts to repair its brand among Latino voters.
Since the 2012 election when President Barack Obama won more than 70 percent of the Hispanic vote, the Republican Party has recognized it must act fast if it wants to remain competitive in the 2016 presidential elections because of changing demographics.
As immigration advocates begin mounting their campaigns and planning their demonstrations in the new year, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives are working behind the scenes in an attempt to put an immigration bill on the floor in 2014. So far, Republicans have passed five immigration bills out of committee, but nothing has been placed on the floor for a vote.
A House leadership aide says that in the weeks and months ahead, immigration reform will remain a major focus in the House and a few small signs indicate advocates have reason to remain confident.
House Speaker John Boehner attracted headlines in December when he hired former John McCain immigration adviser Rebecca Tallent to help shape his office's immigration policy. Tallent worked with McCain to successfully cobble together a comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013.
And Boehner's attitude toward the far right fringe of his party, which is opposed to immigration reform, appears to be shifting. Instead of cooperating with these groups, he's opposing them.
In December, Boehner lashed out against some conservative groups that were advocating against a budget compromise deal, the first time the speaker publicly aired his frustration with the tea party groups pressuring his members.
If Boehner decides to bring immigration reform to the floor, he could do so against the wishes of those conservative groups like Heritage Action for America, a campaign group that rallied against the Senate's immigration bill in 2013.
While major immigration reform bills in 1986 and 1996 passed in midterm election years, timing remains the major enemy of immigration reform in 2014. Advocates expect Boehner would either need to bring legislation to the floor in early spring to give lawmakers distance from their midterm elections or bring the bills to the floor in the early summer after most Republican lawmakers know whether they are facing a primary challeng.
If immigration does not pass before the election, however, advocates say there is still a window in the lame duck session of Congress.
"I wouldn't be surprised if it passed after the election," says Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a coalition of business, faith and law enforcement leaders fighting for immigration reform. "The one thing about the House is that when they want to they can move awfully quickly."
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