Immigration Reform in 2014

The immigration reform debate within U.S. Congress for 2013 has officially ended, but it’s important to look on the bright side: 2014 has the potential to be an extremely important year for immigration reform. Based on what’s been happening in 2013, here are our predictions for the biggest topics in immigration reform for 2014:

1. States continue to make their own “micro” immigration reforms as the U.S. government stalls

The House ignored this year’s best chance for comprehensive immigration reform once House Speaker John Boehner refused to introduce the Senate-passed bill to the House floor. There were plenty of rumors and hints that the House was cooking up its own immigration plan, but nothing ever materialized in 2013 after several disagreements and setbacks.

That may change in 2014, but it will still take months to create a concrete immigration plan that could realistically pass through the entire legislative branch. U.S. citizens and their home states are growing more impatient by the day, and it shows: in October, California Governor Jerry Brown signed several new immigration laws that benefit, assist, or protect undocumented immigrants in his state that go into effect on January 1, 2014. California, Illinois, and several other states are now issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants to improve road safety for all drivers. States with high undocumented immigrant populations will be watching California’s pro-immigrant experiment in 2014 to see if their policies pay off for citizens and immigrants alike.

We’re already seeing the negative results of states with extremely rigid anti-immigrant laws: Alabama and Arizona have passed the most inflexible and punitive immigration policies in the country over the past several years, and now their laws are failing miserably. What some state lawmakers saw as groundbreaking and courageous policy against those who broke U.S. immigration law are now being disparaged as ineffective, shortsighted, unethical, and very importantly unconstitutional laws that actually hurt U.S. citizens and their local economies.

2. The “amnesty” debate continues: legalization vs. full citizenship

This topic was supposed to be put away for good in 2013, but expect some far right Republicans to use this as their last available bargaining tool. They know they can’t completely block immigration reform if they want their party to stay viable, but many are hoping they can still barter with Democrats on the path to citizenship. They will try to negotiate with potential voters by offering a watered-down version of a path to citizenship, hoping that undocumented immigrants will be grateful for whatever they can get after years of broken promises and drawn out debates. Popular non-solutions include giving citizenship only to DREAMers and not their parents, or creating a new class of person, the Registered Provisional Immigrant, who can legally work but will never be allowed to obtain full citizenship or have access the federal benefits associated with citizenship.

Expect these hardliners to continue peppering speeches with the A-word, “amnesty,” as a scare tactic and a means to diminish the conversation about the importance of a path to citizenship. The path to citizenship in the Senate bill is not even close to amnesty; it will require thousands of dollars in fees and penalties, multiple applications submitted to USCIS, a clean background check, and 5-13 years of waiting in line for the visa backlog to clear out. Most likely, a significant portion of today’s 11 million undocumented immigrants won’t even qualify because of a criminal record or financial limitations.

3. Deportations, deportations, deportations

The controversy over the Obama administration’s record number of deportations was thrust back into the spotlight in November when the President was heckled at an immigration rally. Last weekend, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also spoke out against Obama’s deportation record, which hit over 400,000 deportations last year. The administration seems to be making small steps towards reversing that trend in response to a large recent public outcry, especially among Hispanic voters. 2013 deportations are expected to drop 10% from 2012’s numbers. What was meant as a tactic to demonstrate Obama’s toughness on immigration enforcement to gain bipartisan support for immigration reform seems to have backfired.

Whether or not Obama has the true power to stop every immigrant deportation is up for debate, but deportations will definitely continue to be a hot topic in 2014 as long as there are no new laws to protect undocumented immigrants from being separated from their families.

4. John Boehner finds his voice and more Republicans warm up to immigration as the 2014 election approaches

After months of silence, House Speaker John Boehner has finally startedo show signs that he is ready to bring immigration reform to the table, particularly when he hired the Director of Immigration Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center (and former John McCain advisor) to his staff.

Despite the issues with Republicans blocking a path to citizenship, expect a whole lot more of them to follow Boehner’s lead and warm up to the idea of immigration reform in 2014, especially as they try to rebuild some of the credibility they lost in 2013. Immigration reform is an easy win for both sides if they can put away their differences.

5. More modifications and critiques of the original 2013 Senate-passed bill and its derivatives

As immigration reform is given more airtime and credibility in 2014, expect lawmakers, pundits, and advocates to once again start scrutinizing existing immigration reform bills meticulously. Unless the House is prepared to execute a major overhaul or rewrite, expect the 2013 Senate-passed bill to remain the template for whatever can pass in 2014, and that its problems will be revisited before it can pass.

Since the original bill was passed by the Senate in June, many have stopped discussing some of the bill’s less popular policies, like eliminating most family-based visas and the green card lottery. Expect the immigration conversation to switch from “something, anything we can get” to “a comprehensive, forward-thinking plan that is crafted with the future in mind.”