Americans soon will see whether members of the U.S. House of Representatives can walk and chew gum at the same time – that is, whether they can take on more than one or two of the nation’s problems before the year ends.
Yes, they must meet looming deadlines on the budget or face a government shutdown and possible defaulting on financial obligations.
But with only 35 scheduled legislative days before the end of the year, they can and should take up immigration reform as a high priority. Given the time constraints, the most prudent course would be to hold an up-or-down vote on the Senate immigration bill that passed on a bipartisan 68-32 vote in June.
The California delegation really should be leading on this.
Fifteen Republican members of the state Legislature understand the significance of immigration to California and sent a letter Thursday to their fellow Republicans in Congress urging them to act on reform this year: “We strongly urge House Republicans to demand a vote. While some members in Congress may not support the legislation, every member deserves the opportunity to vote.”
The California Chamber of Commerce and a large coalition of local chambers of commerce also have urged the Republican majority to adopt comprehensive national immigration reform this year.
House Republicans should follow the lead of Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, a son of immigrants and dairy farmer who represents a district in the Central Valley. “Responsible, long-term immigration reform requires a large fix and will undoubtedly include significant compromise from everyone involved,” he has said. “It is time for the House to focus and dedicate itself toward passing substantive and comprehensive legislation.”
That includes “reforms that account for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.”
It means addressing more than border security. The big flaw of the last immigration reform in 1986 is that it did not address the need for future immigration flows, so we ended up with yet more people entering the country illegally to work and rejoin their families.
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, whose wife is a first-generation Mexican American, told The Modesto Bee in August that the Senate bill would help his district. He expressed frustration about House delays: “I think the Senate made tremendous progress. It was done bipartisan, and I thought that would be enough to get the House moving forward.”
Unfortunately, the House Republican caucus is up against a dedicated crew of “enforcement-only, no-reformniks” such as Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, who has said, “We don’t need to reform them (immigration laws); we need to enforce them.”
For California, the stakes are high. Our labor force is 34 percent foreign-born. So are 38 percent of science, technology, engineering and math graduates at the state’s research universities. Non-citizens account for more than 70 percent of all farm workers. More than a third of California business owners are immigrants.
The executive director of a coalition of Silicon Valley firms, Compete America, told Politico, “Being in Congress you have to walk, chew gum, juggle knives and jump through hoops on fire all at once. That’s the job.” It is time for Republican leaders in the House to allow a vote on immigration reform.