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Republicans say US immigration reform bill is dead

Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Party's whip in the House of Representatives ('the House') has said that there will be no vote on a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the House this year.

Representative McCarthy, from California told immigration reform activists at a meeting in Bakersfield, California, that there were not enough days left in the legislative calendar for the House to vote on the immigration reform bill that has already been passed by the Senate. Mr McCarthy said that he was 'committed' to immigration reform in 2014.

Mr McCarthy said that the House would have to vote on immigration reform by February or March at the latest or it would be 'clearly dead' because 2014 is an election year when many seats in the House will be up for re-election.

Gang of Eight

In June 2013, the Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act 2013 which was drafted by a group of senators known as 'the Gang of Eight'. The Gang of Eight comprised four Republicans and four Democrats. Among other reforms, the bill provided that;
  • Border security with Mexico should be greatly increased
  • Most people living illegally in the US should be eligible to join a 'pathway to citizenship'. Illegal residents with clean criminal records would be allowed to apply to join this pathway providing they paid a fine of $500 for being in the country illegally, learn English to a required standard and paid tax on any income earned in the US while they were in the US illegally. The 'pathway' should take at least thirteen years to complete.
  • Employers would have to check all prospective employees against the 'e-Verify' database. E-Verify lists the immigration status of all known residents of the US. If someone is not listed on e-Verify or was listed as ineligible to work, then they would not be allowed to take a job
  • The number of H-1B visas, temporary work visas which last three years, would be increased from the current maximum of 85,000 per year. There would be a cap of 130,000 on H-1Bs for people with bachelor's degrees (or degree equivalence) and the cap on the number of H-1Bs for graduates with higher degrees such as Master's degrees and doctorates would be removed altogether. At times of high demand, the cap for normal H-1Bs would rise to 180,000 annually.
  • Graduates from US universities with higher degrees would be able to apply for US permanent resident visas (known as 'green cards'). There would be no annual cap on the number of graduates who could apply.
Under the US Constitution, a bill must be passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives to become law. The Senate is controlled by the Democrats, President Obama's party and, because the President supports immigration reform, the Senate passed the bill with little fuss.

Amnesty would reward illegal behaviour

owever the House of Representatives is controlled by the opposing Republican Party. Many Republicans oppose immigration reform for a variety of reasons. They say that this is because to create 'a pathway to citizenship' for illegal residents in the US would be to grant an amnesty and reward people for their criminal behaviour in residing in the US illegally.

However, there may also be an electoral reason for Republicans to oppose the 'pathway'; most illegal residents in the US are of Hispanic descent, mostly from Mexico and from the rest of Latin America. Statistics show that Hispanic voters vote overwhelmingly for the Democrats.

However, to further complicate calculations for Republican members of the House of Representatives, polling in the US shows that 71% of US voters, including a majority of Republican voters, are in favour of the creation of the 'pathway'.

US public blames the Republicans

At the same time, Republican members of Congress have extremely high disapproval rating of 70%. To be fair, Democrats are also extremely unpopular with disapproval rating of 63%. The President too is unpopular with a disapproval rating of 58%.

The overall picture though, seems to be that most American voters, even Republican voters, blame Republicans for the recent federal government shutdown which saw many US government employees sent home from work unpaid for two weeks in October.

On top of this, polling in congressional districts (or constituencies) with small Republican majorities shows that swing voters are likely to favour immigration reform. Advocates of immigration reform suggest that Republican congressmen are likely to face an electoral massacre in 2014 unless they pass a reform bill.

It's Obama's fault – Senator Cruz

As ever in Washington, views on the matter are polarised. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas says that, if the House fails to pass immigration reform in 2013 it will be President Obama's fault. A spokesman for Senator Cruz said that it was the President's insistence that illegal residents should be able to join the 'pathway to citizenship' that is the problem.

But Kathy Bird of the Florida Immigration Coalition said 'We know that if the [republican] House leadership wants to get something done then they can. They can expand the session, work at weekends. The reality is that they don't want to. They are going pay for this next year'.

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