On Tuesday Jan. 28, President Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union address. Clocking in officially at 65 minutes, the address touched on everything from the federal minimum wage to climate change.
Interestingly, the president only devoted a single paragraph, buried deep within the text, to the topic of immigration reform. Using the word “immigration” just three times during the more than 6,500 word speech.
It was a move described by some such as Politico’s Reid J. Epstein as deliberate, giving Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans breathing space to bring to the floor proposals of their own. Already the possibility of legislative action in the House seems more likely than last year when the House did not take action following passage in the Senate of the bipartisan Gang of Eight’s comprehensive reform bill.
The fact that the House would address the issue was then confirmed by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA-05) who while delivering the official GOP response said, “we’re working on a step-by-step solution to immigration reform by first securing our borders and making sure America will always attract the best, brightest, and hardest working from around the world.”
Also indicating that this would in fact be the year that the House tackles immigration reform was Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI-01) in an interview with NBC Chief Political Correspondent, Chuck Todd. Appearing on Todd’s MSNBC show “the Daily Rundown” the day after the State of the Union, Ryan talked openly about plans to discuss immigration reform at the “House Retreat” and the legislation that was currently being circulated within the conference.
When the statements of McMorris Rodgers and Ryan are coupled with the fact that filing deadlines for primary challengers in a majority of House districts will have been passed later this spring, the prospects of legislation clearing the House this year look promising. It appears now that the only hurdle left to clear will be coming to some sort of an agreement as the two chambers will most certainly have to appoint conferees to hammer out differences between their two respective reform bills.
Chief among these differences will likely be related to the legal status of the 11 million undocumented persons living in the country illegally. The senate-passed version of the bill provides a pathway to citizenship after a probationary period of up to 13 years. The house version, as indicated by Ryan, will likely allow the 11 million persons the opportunity to stay in the United States legally as residents but not as citizens.
Other differences will likely arise as the bill makes its way through the House in the coming months, but passage of a reform bill is a must as the GOP needs to win back support among Hispanic voters heading into the 2014 midterms and the 2016 presidential cycle.
Addressing the issue also has profound implications for the economy. With provisions in the senate version that encourage investments in the real-estate market and business start-ups, visas for highly-skilled workers and their spouses, and a number of short-term seasonal work permits, immigration reform has the potential to jump-start the economy.
In fact, one study conducted by the center-right American Action Forum, found that the passage of a reform bill could translate into a $1,500 increase in per capita GDP and “reduce the cumulative federal deficit by over $2.5 trillion.”
Most importantly however, passing immigration reform is not only the politically and economically smart thing for the House to do, it is also the morally correct thing to do. When we define ourselves as “a land of opportunity” it is important to make sure that there exists a legal framework by which people with a strong work ethic seeking out those opportunities have an avenue to do so. And for those who think this is a departure from the values that the U.S. was built on, remember that it is an idea that has been given a permanent voice through one of the great icons of this nation – the Statue of Liberty. Indeed, there at her base is a bronze plaque with the famous words penned by Emma Lazarus, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
The president smartly didn’t inject himself into the issue on Tuesday and the House in response showed a willingness to advance on the issue not seen since the aftermath of the 2012 election. If things continue and the words of Lazarus are considered, millions could benefit and 2014 could become the year for immigration reform.