Congress will soon begin its August recess, planning not to return to Washington DC until after Labor Day. Among the unfinished business is comprehensive immigration reform.

In late June the Senate approved a 1,200-page bipartisan immigration measure on a 68-32 vote, suggesting that the Obama Administration and Capitol Hill might be able to hammer out the first big changes in U.S. immigration law in almost 30 years.

The Senate-passed legislation would strengthen border security, mandate electronic employment eligibility verification, update the nation’s visa system and create a 13-year “path to citizenship” for most of the 11 million immigrants now in the U.S. illegally. While full citizenship is envisioned as a multi-year, multi-hurdle process, provisional legal status for undocumented aliens could be granted within months of the bill becoming law. Read more.

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Immigration Reform: What’s Up with That?

Fri Aug 2, 2013

Congress will soon begin its August recess, planning not to return to Washington DC until after Labor Day. Among the unfinished business is comprehensive immigration reform.

In late June the Senate approved a 1,200-page bipartisan immigration measure on a 68-32 vote, suggesting that the Obama Administration and Capitol Hill might be able to hammer out the first big changes in U.S. immigration law in almost 30 years.

The Senate-passed legislation would strengthen border security, mandate electronic employment eligibility verification, update the nation’s visa system and create a 13-year “path to citizenship” for most of the 11 million immigrants now in the U.S. illegally. While full citizenship is envisioned as a multi-year, multi-hurdle process, provisional legal status for undocumented aliens could be granted within months of the bill becoming law.

Recent polls indicate that the Senate bill enjoys widespread public support as well as the backing of U.S. employers. Nevertheless, the bill’s prospects in the House of Representatives remain cloudy.

Some influential House republicans object to the idea of “comprehensive” immigration reform, preferring an incremental approach in which elements of the Senate bill are considered and voted separately—or, indeed, not at all.

Others, and it’s not clear whether they represent a majority, oppose conferring the benefits of “citizenship” on immigrants in the U.S. illegally. Still others would like to see tougher border security and enforcement in place first, before immigrant legalization is enacted.

When lawmakers return in September the first order of business likely will be consideration of legislation to raise the public debt ceiling, now about $16.3 trillion. That will surely be a bruising battle, with the White House and Congressional democrats calling for higher taxes to pay for some new spending initiatives and republicans urging lower taxes and cuts in government spending.

With disagreements over taxes, spending, the size of the public debt, the sequester and even funding for the IRS to enforce the Affordable Care Act, September is not shaping up to be a great month for constructive compromises on immigration reform.

An old cliché in Washington DC is that “the devil is in the details” when it comes to compromises on controversial legislation. It’s possible that immigration reform legislation will be enacted this year—but the devil will be in the details.