President Obama says he might consider the U.S. House's piecemeal approach to immigration reform, as long as it includes a path to citizenship. (Photo Via White House Photostream/Flickr)

President Obama says he might consider the U.S. House’s piecemeal approach to immigration reform, as long as it includes a path to citizenship. (Photo Via White House Photostream/Flickr)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

President Obama said in a speech at the White House last week that he would be open to the U.S. House’s approach to voting on immigration bills one by one, which could either be immigration reform’s savior or its demise. Rep. Mario Diaz Balart, R-Miami, who has been instrumental in getting immigration reform passed in the House, has been telling reporters that this change in tone is by no means a guarantee that reform will pass during this Congress.

A group of Republican House members are now working to get a series of bills together that most of their caucus would vote for. In order for the president to sign those bills, though, one of them would have to provide a path to citizenship for some of the million undocumented immigrants here in the U.S.

But the issue of legalization remains one of the most contentious issues in the House. It would even more contentious if a vote is taken close to the 2014 election.

And as The Miami Herald notes, the House’s strategy of passing bills one-by-one might prolong the process well into the upcoming election, thus dooming immigration reform:

And while Obama called for the House to pass a large bill that could then be reconciled with the Senate version, House Republicans want to approach any changes in piecemeal fashion, a process that at best would push any significant progress into next year.

Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said Thursday that the House “will not consider any massive, Obamacare-style legislation that no one understands.” He said the House is committed to a deliberate, “step-by-step approach.”

“Obviously, there is no appetite for one big bill,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart told a group of reporters Wednesday night. The Florida Republican, who had been a member of the unsuccessful bipartisan “gang of eight,” is working with other Republicans on a set of bills that would allow undocumented immigrants to “get right with the law.”

Diaz-Balart avoided using the word “legalization” because it has become so politically fraught.

Most recently, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, endorsed the House’s strategy. For a while, he had been behind an effort to pass comprehensive reform. Rubio was part of a bipartisan group in the Senate that wrote and helped move a comprehensive immigration reform bill through to final passage.

However, Rubio’s office now says he supports taking a piecemeal approach. Talking Points Memo reports:

The most prominent conservative supporter of sweeping immigration reform is calling on Congress to dial back the effort and instead focus on making incremental changes, delivering a significant blow to the prospects of reform.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) now opposes a bicameral conference committee to reach a final resolution to the Senate-passed bill, his spokesman said, which anxious pro-reform advocates believe is the only feasible way to salvage the comprehensive overhaul.

“The point is that at this time, the only approach that has a realistic chance of success is to focus on those aspects of reform on which there is consensus through a series of individual bills,” Alex Conant, a top spokesman for Rubio, told TPM in an email. “Otherwise, this latest effort to make progress on immigration will meet the same fate as previous efforts: failure.”

Rubio previously had not addressed the issue of conference on the Senate bill. But the senator’s stance against it now is an ominous sign for reform because there is no bipartisan consensus on immigration reform without a path to citizenship for the 11 million people living in the country illegally. The House Republican majority opposes such a provision. Proponents had hoped the House would approve smaller, piecemeal bills and move to initiate a conference committee to reconcile the chambers’ differences — the normal legislative process. Conservatives quickly saw the strategy as a ploy to enact “amnesty” and moved to close the door on conference.

Now, they have Rubio’s support.

House leaders have insisted they won’t vote on a comprehensive immigration reform bill – like the one that came out of the U.S. Senate. Instead, House members have only been considering stand-alone bills that tackle one issue at a time.

For the past couple of months Obama had insisted he would only sign a comprehensive bill, which had all but killed the possibility of immigration reform during this Congress. However, according to The Los Angeles Times:

In remarks at the White House, Obama hinted that he was no longer tied to the Senate bill, the elaborate product of months of intense bipartisan negotiations, to achieve what he has called a major priority for his second term.

Obama instead signaled that he might consider a package of smaller bills, if necessary, as long as they provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in the country without legal status.

“If House Republicans have new and different additional ideas on how we should move forward, then we want to hear them. I’ll be listening,” Obama told several dozen pro-reform activists from labor, business and religious groups.

White House spokesman Jay Carney echoed the shift, telling reporters there are “a variety of ways that you can reach the ultimate goal” of a bill that Obama could sign into law.

“The House’s approach will be up to the House,” Carney said. “There is a comprehensive bill the House Democrats have put together that is similar to the Senate bill and reflects the president’s principles. But the means by which we arrive at our destination is in some ways of course up to the lawmakers who control the houses of Congress.”

In the meantime, advocates for immigration reform are still rallying and are hopeful immigration reform is still a possibility—even if comprehensive reform is not.