Immigration reform is probably not heading to the president's desk this year. (Photo via Daimon Eklund)

Immigration reform is probably not heading to the president’s desk this year. (Photo via Daimon Eklund)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Florida Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart — a key figure in the U.S. House working many years to overhaul the country’s immigration laws– has all but said any hope of immigration reform this year is gone.

Diaz-Balart was at first “cautiously optimistic” that a deal would pass after President Barak Obama mentioned he would be open to the House’s approach to passing stand along immigration bills that tackle one part of immigration reform at a time. But now Diaz-Balart is unsure about the chances for reform. According to Greg Sargent for The Washington Post:

In what will be seen as another blow to immigration reform’s chances, a top pro-reform Republican in the House concedes House Republicans are not going to act on immigration reform this year, and he worries that the window for getting anything done next year is closing fast.

“We have very few days available on the floor in the House, so I don’t think we’re going to be able to do it this year,” GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida told me by phone today.

Diaz-Balart has been deeply involved in bipartisan negotiations over immigration for years now, and is thought to be in touch with House GOP leaders on the issue, so folks involved in the immigration debate pay close attention to what he says.

Worse, Diaz-Balart said that if something were not done early next year — by February or March, before GOP primaries heat up – reform is dead for the foreseeable future.

“I’m hopeful that we can get to it early next year,” he said. “But I am keenly aware that next year, you start running into the election cycle. If we cannot get it done by early next year, then it’s clearly dead. It flatlines.”

… Now Diaz-Balart says a vote this year isn’t going to happen. This matters because he is one of the key Republicans who is negotiating over a piecemeal proposal to do something about the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. This proposal has yet to be released, but the Tea Leaves suggest it will include probation for the 11 million, enabling them to work legally, contingent on getting E-Verify running (if it isn’t after five years, those on probation would revert to illegal status). This idea, which was in the now-defunct House Gang of Seven plan, is seen as one of the few ways Republicans might be able to support reform that deals with the 11 million.

It has been an uphill battle for Diaz-Balart and anyone else in the House looking to get bipartisan support for immigration bills. Both parties have slowed any effort to move policy towards the middle, which would have increased the odds of any bill passing in the House.

House Democrats have favored a bill similar to the bipartisan bill that passed in the U.S. Senate earlier this year. However, the bill—even though it was voted for by Republicans—is too liberal for House Republicans. House Republicans want an emphasis on border security and the more conservative factions of the House are completely against any bill with a path to citizenship, which would be a key component of reform.

Furthermore, the Senate bill is comprehensive, which is something U.S. House Speaker John Boehner promised he would never put to a vote because many of the members of his caucus come from solidly GOP districts.

The Hill began reporting this week on the back story of how immigration died yet again in the House.

According to part one of the Hill’s account, it wasn’t just Republicans that were stalling efforts during the beginning of the immigration fight.  In fact, Democrats were stalling the House before the Senate even voted on its bill. The Hill reports:

The White House and Senate Democrats did not want a more conservative House plan —designed to pass muster with a Republican majority — to emerge before the Gang of Eight’s proposal had passed on the Senate floor.

Lacking support from party leaders, Democrats in the House group suffered from internal divisions over how far to bend in their bid to reach a deal that could set up a compromise with the more favorable Senate bill.

Tempers flared frequently between [Rep. Luis Gutiérrez], the colorful Chicago lawmaker revered by immigration advocates, and Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), a Los Angeles liberal who had risen up the ranks of the Democratic leadership.

Immigration reform is widely seen as dead in this Congress, and the finger-pointing has already started.

Both parties are responsible for the effort’s demise.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), for example, refused pleas from GOP negotiators for a commitment to move the House bill. Republicans could never give Democrats a clear sense of how many GOP lawmakers might support the proposal if it ever reached the floor.

Inside the House Group of Eight, momentum toward a deal slowed as negotiations became bogged down in a dispute over healthcare. By the end of May, the group had lost its self-described conservative hardliner, Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), who quit despite pleas from top Republicans, including Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), that he stay at the table.

The remaining seven met through the summer, but their moment had passed.

In the meantime, immigration reform has growing support in the U.S., according to polling in the past year. However, as long as the House waits to even consider any type of legislation, the less likely reform becomes.