The role of politics can never be underestimated during the voters’ dance on Capitol Hill that spins legislation. As Congress enters another election year, conventional wisdom would say that immigration reform may be one of the political game’s most high-profile issues still standing without a resolution — except that history has tended to belie that conventional notion.
The general population of the United States has shown a long-term, marked resistance to the relaxation of immigration standards. This prevailing sentiment has, at times, translated into overtly anti-immigrant manifestations. Historically, these stances have been most pronounced during economically distressed times. In such circumstances, nativist groups lobby for restrictions to immigration on the premise that a restricted or eliminated flow of immigrants would help to preserve the dwindling number of jobs for Americans.
With the emergence of the Tea Party movement and the evidence of its strength within the Republican Party in recent years, many Republicans — afraid of being “primaried” by a more conservative Tea Party acolyte — have proclaimed their conservative bone fides on such sensitive issues as abortion, taxes and immigration. This phenomenon also tends to keep compromise-minded legislators from straying far from the conservative line.
But past statistics seem to suggest that election-year pressures may not be as pivotal as they are touted to be — at least not on the issue of immigration.
If one were to review the record over the last 50 years (a period that includes some of the most contentious immigration legislation passed in American history), it would become quite evident that election-year status has little bearing on the passage of legislation on immigration. Indeed, of the 81 immigration laws enacted during the five-decade-long period, 70 percent were passed in the same year in which a congressional election was scheduled.
It may seem counterintuitive that the prospects for immigration reform are better in an election year. But with the vast majority of immigration laws focused on such election-salient issues as the economy and law enforcement, immigration is quite magnetic as a running platform for an officeholder.
With the electoral environment more conducive to members of Congress running on immigration reform, perhaps it should be unsurprising that on January 30, 2014, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, promulgated a set of principles his caucus adopted that is more flexible and accommodating of an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.[footer block_id=’902′]