Supporters of immigration reform in the United States gained a victory last week when the Senate approved a bipartisan bill which tightens border security and sets out a lengthy path for citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. But getting a bill through the Republican-controlled House will be a different story, says House Speaker John Boehner.
“We are going to do our own bill through regular order, and it will be legislation that reflects the will of our majority and the will of the American people,” he said.
Boehner insists any reform bill in the House must be supported by a majority of Republicans, and many of them have already rejected the Senate version because it offers a path to citizenship.
On the other hand, a bill that veers too far to the right would alienate Democrats, says Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
“We know it has to be a compromise. We know who is in the majority. But if you want our votes it has to be something that our members can vote for,” she said.
Fourteen Republicans supported the Senate immigration bill, well aware of the party’s dismal showing among Hispanic voters in last year’s election, says analyst Allan Lichtman.
“Republicans cannot go forward and expect to win national elections picking up 20 to 25 percent of the rapidly growing vote of Hispanics in the United States,” he said.
In the House, many Republicans are reluctant to anger their conservative supporters back in their home states, explains expert Norm Ornstein.
“If you are sitting there in the House, you may be mildly fearful that there could be a huge backlash. But the bigger risk for most of those members is the backlash from their own right wing, not from a broader public uneasiness with the direction they are going,” he said.
If the reform bill is blocked in the House, immigration will be a key issue in upcoming elections, says Lichtman.
“It could be diffused for both parties if something major gets through the Congress. If it does not, then you are going to see the blame game being played,” he said.
In the meantime, millions of undocumented immigrants are waiting for Congress to act.