The U.S. Senate voted by a large majority (67-27) this week to end debate on the immigration reform bill and allow it to move forward to a vote. The original bill was supposed to cost $6 billion, but the amendment that strengthens border security is now attached to the immigration reform bill and is supposed to cost well over $38 billion.
Some of the key components of the bill are understood; for instance, the size of the U.S. Border Patrol will almost double, 350 miles of fence is supposed to be built along the border, and an estimated 11 million new citizens will be created.
Critics are skeptical whether the border security commitments will be honored, and argue that amnesty is a bad approach to solving the illegal immigration problem. Meanwhile, proponents contend that something has to be done, and strengthening the border and providing a pathway to citizenship are the right steps to take.
The economic impacts will extend well beyond the $38 billion price tag, and will have significant impacts on wages, societal benefits/costs, etc. The bill is more than 1,200 pages, and in an eerily similar vein to Obamacare, most Senators acknowledge not having read the bill before voting on it. Without question, the system is terribly broken, and must be reformed.
The political stakes couldn’t be any higher with this issue, and it's important to realize that this bill is really a political battle. All you need to know to understand in this debate is that Hispanics are far and away the fastest-growing demographic group in America, and more than 70% of them vote Democrat. The Republican party can't remain a viable national party if they continue to lose within that demographic that significantly. And the Democrats know that a decline to even a 55-45 split in their favor will probably assure their party dominance in key battleground states.
So, the immigration reform bill was expected to pass in a full Senate vote this week, after which the focus will shift to the U.S. House of Representatives where passage is far less certain, and the political stakes are far higher. The Speaker has indicated he won't bring the legislation to the floor unless it's supported by a majority of Republicans in the chamber, which will likely be a far bigger hurdle than simple majority support.
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The eventual result will likely come down to the political calculations, and whether it's believed that the border security measures will actually be implemented. But passing some sort of immigration reform seems inevitable. The political stakes reach beyond the Congress and will likely have a role in determining who emerges as viable candidates for the presidency.
For the Republicans, there seems to be a growing acceptance that this has become issue focused on improving border security and minimizing the political losses. For the Democrats, it's not only about creating a super majority in the long term, but hopefully winning the majority in the House in the short run.
The importance of immigration reform is universally accepted. Unquestionably, both sides agree that immigration is long overdue, the last serious attempt having occurred over 25 years ago. I agree that a broken immigration system and porous border must be addressed. However, I think the debate within the Republican party between the two factions that I cynically label as the “naïve pragmatic establishment” and the “dogmatic ideological base,” should be enlightening for those trying to analyze the shifting political environment within our country.
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