Is There Any Hope For Immigration Reform On The Hill?

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J.M. Eddins Jr. / MCT / Getty Images

Marchers with the Fair Immigration Reform Movement and its Keeping Families Together: Youth in Action campaign march past the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on, Nov. 14, 2013.

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, and the Republican governor of Michigan Rick Snyder are speaking at the National Press Club Friday to tout the economic case for passage of immigration reform. It’s the first in a series of exchanges coming this winter as the parties jockey for position on immigration ahead of the 2014 midterms. Speaker of the House John Boehner will announce broad Republican “principles” in the upcoming weeks. On Tuesday, the President will give his State of the Union with undocumented immigrants in the audience.

But while optimism is high—the President reportedly told Senate Democrats he expects the Republican-controlled House will pass “something”—experience suggests that, at most, only border security will see Congressional approval this year.

There are two reasons to think House Republicans won’t support a bill resolving the legal status of illegal immigrants in 2014, despite the fact that they pledged to “embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform” after their 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, lost the Hispanic demographic two to one.

First, House Republicans don’t need to tackle the hard issues of immigration reform to keep the chamber. Democrats need to win 42 of 43 competitive races to take over the House, according to the Cook Political Report, and Republicans might even gain a few seats in the wake of the ObamaCare rollout fiasco. Next year, with no congressional election, could provide a better political environment for House Republicans.

The second reason is that the right wing of the House Republican conference has yet to embrace reform, and there is little indication that Speaker John Boehner will rebuff them as he has conservative outside groups. In fact, it is President Obama who has moved towards Republicans, accepting in November their “step-by-step” or “piecemeal” approach, on condition that all of the steps—border security, high-tech and agriculture worker visas, a path to legality, etc.—get done.

Republicans have not committed to such a compromise, and for now they’re avoiding the question. When asked if he supported a path to citizenship or legal status for illegal immigrants, Rep. Steve Scalise, the chairman of a broad conservative coalition, the Republican Study Committee, told TIME, “I support legislation that would finally secure our border… I think that was probably the biggest flaw of the Senate bill,” Scalise added. “It just assumes everybody wants to come here and get legal status to go and be a registered voter. And that’s just not the case.”

When pressed about what to do with the current 11 million illegal immigrants within America’s borders, Scalise advocated for reforming visa laws for both high-skilled and low-skilled workers. He said the current program “forces a lot of people to come here illegally, who would otherwise come here to work legally, and then go back home.” Addressing the visa system may be a way to strike a compromise, but previous attempts at the House have proven to be extremely partisan. Both agricultural and high-tech visa bills passed out of committee in 2013 failed to garner Democratic support.

Other House Republicans have advocated for a path to legal status for illegal immigrants, most recently the GOP whip, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who reaffirmed his support this week. Other members of the leadership agree, and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) have taken the mantle on finding undocumented immigrants a path to legal status.

But several other Republicans who were initially involved in finding a solution, including Reps. Ted Poe (R-Texas), Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), and Raul Labrador (R-Ind.), have become embittered with the President and will remain hard pressed to come around.