In an effort to jump start stalled negotiations regarding comprehensive immigration reform, Senator Charles “Chuck” Schumer (D-NY) has proposed an unusual solution. He suggested that Congress could enact an immigration reform bill, but delay its implementation until 2017, after President Barack Obama has left office. This would address one of the primary concerns raised by Republicans regarding immigration reform. They have argued that Obama “cannot be trusted” to implement any increased enforcement mechanisms within such a bill. Republicans point to Obama’s past use of executive orders to alter deportation guidelines as an example of his unwillingness to work with Congress on the issue and to enforce current immigration policy.
Schumer dismissed the argument that Obama would not fully enforce an immigration bill passed by Congress, but did acknowledge the lack of trust between the administration and Congressional Republicans. He is hopeful that by potentially removing Obama as an obstacle, an immigration bill can be passed. Schumer stated passing immigration reform would be getting “something real done for America.” This is an issue that Schumer has attempted to address in the past. He was one of the main sponsors of an immigration bill that passed in the Senate in June of 2013. The bill failed to gain any traction in the Republican controlled House of Representatives.
Republicans were dismissive of Schumer’s unusual proposed solution to immigration reform. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) called the idea of delaying implementation “entirely impractical.” He further argued that passing such a bill, regardless of when it was scheduled to go into effect, would eliminate any incentive for Obama to enforce any of the current immigration laws on the books. It was Boehner who put a stop to recent immigration reform efforts with the suggestion last week that Obama would not enforce the law.
Other Republicans pointed to Obama’s “threat” in his recent State of the Union speech to use executive orders to bypass Congress as a reason not to negotiate on immigration reform. Representative Peter King (R-NY) suggested that immigration reform is an issue Republicans want to address, but the majority of Republicans simply do not trust Obama to work with them in good faith. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) echoed the trust issue, but instead pointed to the flawed implementation of the Affordable Care Act. If the administration cannot successfully implement its signature domestic policy, Ayotte claimed it could not be trusted to implement immigration reform either.
Democrats retaliated claiming that the Republican rejection of Schumer’s proposal was just another excuse to obstruct President Obama’s agenda by any means necessary. Senator Richard “Dick” Durbin (D-IL) said “any excuse will do” for Republicans to oppose or obstruct the president’s policies. Immigration reform is a centerpiece of the Democratic agenda for 2014 and a part of Obama’s “Year of Action” that he began to outline in his State of the Union speech.
Schumer’s proposal is an unusual attempt at compromise on the issue of immigration reform. It is not often when a major piece of legislation is passed with delays built in to its implementation. Such an unusual proposal underscores how important the issue is to Congressional Democrats and highlights the willingness of some politicians to compromise in order to move the issue of immigration reform forward.
By Christopher V. Spencer