Campaigners for immigration reform in the US have met Democratic senators in Washington to discuss tactics.
The Democratic senators have urged the campaigners to spend the summer putting as much pressure as possible on Republican members of the House of Representatives to try to force them to support comprehensive immigration reform before Washington closes for the summer recess.
The Washington system requires new legislation to be passed by both houses of Congress; the Senate and The House of Representatives (known as 'the House') before it can become law.
Congress splitThe Senate, which is controlled by the Democrats, passed a reform act in June 2013. But the House, which is controlled by the Republicans, has not even voted on the bill. The speaker of the House, comes from the party with the most representatives in the House. The Speaker decides what bills the House will vote on.
Speaker John Boehner, (Republican, Ohio) has not allowed the House to vote on the bill previously passed by the Senate (known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act). Nor has he allowed any votes on any other immigration bills throughout 2013.
Washington commentators have speculated as to the reason for this. The consensus view is that he is scared that allowing the vote would cause huge divisions in the Republican Party leading to a split in the Party.
Immigration system is 'broken'Virtually all politicians in the US agree that the immigration system is 'broken'. But, as with virtually every other issue, they are unable to agree what should be done about it.
The Border Security Act would
- Create a 'pathway to citizenship' for most illegal residents. There are an estimated 11.5m illegal residents in the US, many of them 'Latinos'. They would have to pay a $500 fine, learn English and pay back taxes. This would allow many of them to gain permanent residence and perhaps eventually US citizenship.
- Increase the annual number of H-1B temporary skilled work visas' from 85,000 to over 150,000. This figure could rise above 200,000 if demand was high
- Allow graduates from US universities with higher degrees to apply for permanent resident visas on graduation. There would be no cap on the number of applicants each year.
- Increase spending on border security by $4.5bn over the next four years
The first of these reforms is perhaps the most important and certainly the most controversial change that is proposed to the system.
Public supports pathway to citizenshipMost Democrats support the establishment of a 'pathway to citizenship' for illegal immigrants. Polling shows that the American public too supports the 'pathway'. Repeated polling over the last few years has shown that between 52 and 83% of the US public believes that illegal immigrants should be allowed to 'come out of the shadows' and work legally, as they cannot do at present.
Many people within the Republican Party support reform too. Business groups and religious conservatives have both lobbied Congressional Republicans to back reform.
However, there is one group that does not support reform and this group is extremely vociferous in its opposition. The Tea Party is an informal grouping of conservatives, libertarians and the like who are, broadly, opposed to 'big government', federal taxes and, generally, illegal immigration.
Tea Party exerts 'disproportionate influence'The Tea Party is not a political party, as such, it is a loose association of like-minded individuals. It exerts a great deal of influence, many say a disproportionate influence, on Republican politicians because Tea Party supporters tend to vote in primary elections in large numbers.
Tea Party candidates usually stand against Republican incumbents who are, in the minds of the Tea Party at least, dangerous liberals.
Mr Boehner faces a Tea Party candidate in his primary later this year, in part at least, because he is suspected of being a supporter of immigration reform, despite the fact that he is responsible for denying the House a chance to vote on the subject.
Republicans face pressure to oppose reformRepublicans, therefore, are facing considerable pressure from their largely white constituencies at home, who are urging them to oppose reform.
The Democratic senators are urging immigration reformers to put pressure on the same Republican representatives to vote in favour of reform.
To become law, the bill would require 60% support in the House. There are 435 seats in the House. There are currently 233 Republicans and 199 Democrats in the House with 3 vacant seats. If all 199 Democrats were to vote in favour of reform, then 62 Republicans would need to back the bill for it to pass.
'Enough Republicans' support reformDemocrats believe that there are enough Republicans who support the bill already, if only they could get Mr Boehner to allow a vote.
This is probably because Republicans recognise that they need the votes of Hispanic and Asian American voters in future elections if there is ever to be a Republican president again.
At the 2012 Presidential election, Republican challenger Mitt Romney won a majority among white voters but was extremely unpopular with ethnic minority voters. This is largely down to the Republicans' attitude to the 'pathway to citizenship'.
Presidential decreeDemocrats warned that, if the Republicans do not cooperate on reform, then President Obama might well introduce some temporary changes to the immigration system by presidential decree.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, one of the authors of the Border Security Act told activists 'If they don't act, you know, then the president is going to have no choice but to act on his own. But we'd all prefer that there be a legislative solution'.
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