Immigration Reform Not Likely Until 2015

Political scientist Karthick Ramakrishnan says departure of Homeland Security chief and foot-dragging in the House add up to further delays

Karthick Ramakrishnan

Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate professor of political science

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Despite the U.S. Senate’s approval last month of an ambitious plan to reform national immigration policy, the piecemeal approach currently favored by House leaders likely means that Congress will fail to pass meaningful legislation this year, says Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside and a leading researcher on immigration policy and politics.

Uncertainty over who will replace Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who announced her resignation on July 12, may further delay Congressional action by House Republicans for whom enforcement issues are of primary concern, Ramakrishnan added. However, this also offers the Obama administration with the opportunity to present a new face to Congress on immigration enforcement.

“There are many reasons to expect that immigration reform will stalemate this year,” the immigration policy researcher said. Little is likely to be accomplished until 2015 when GOP presidential candidates — who tend to be more moderate in their views and rhetoric about immigration policy — may pressure Republican legislators to act responsibly in the run-up to the election, he said.

In February this year, Ramakrishnan said in a paper published by the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.,  that years of net-zero migration from Mexico and the prospect of reduced migration pressures in the future create conditions favorable for a comprehensive solution to undocumented immigration, from a policy perspective.

But political conditions are far more uncertain.

“National leaders in the Republican Party are certainly well aware that they risk losing out on many future presidential elections if they cannot make inroads into the Latino electorate. Asian Americans are also a rapidly growing part of the electorate, and immigration is a significant part of their shifting voting patterns in presidential elections,” he wrote in “Threading the Needle on Immigration Reform in the United States – The Expert Take.”

“Still, most Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate face a far more pressing and immediate political problem than winning future presidential elections, which is to figure out ways to overcome potential primary challengers in 2014. … (E)even if House and Senate leaders are able to forge an agreement on key principles, the fear of primary defeats in 2014 will induce reluctance among many Republican legislators. This is particularly true in the current set of Republican House districts, where conservative primary challengers can defeat incumbents and still have a good chance of winning the general election.”

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