Posted on February 7, 2014 · Posted in Frank Friday, P-cubed News, Roosevelt House Faculty Forum

Disappointing news emerged from Washington this week as House Speaker John Boehner admitted that it was unlikely the House would pass an immigration bill in 2014. This comes a week after senior Republican leaders of the House released a one-page statement of principles that staked out their party’s position on key issues related to immigration reform. This about-face on one of the country’s most urgent issues — which has garnered support from an unusual coalition of labor groups, business executives, prominent conservatives and evangelical leaders — signals deep divisions within the GOP and an inability of its leadership to build consensus on the fate of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country.

Politics lies at the heart of this rancor. In this mid-term election year, Republicans are eager to increase their current majority in the House, and perhaps take over the Senate. Keeping the attention on the implementation challenges faced by the Affordable Care Act, not to mention the President’s 45% approval rating, as found by CNN, or the fact that only a third of the respondents in the same survey forecast success of the President’s policies, are political calculations that Republicans are willing to take.

Any real traction to pass a comprehensive immigration bill would lay bare the real fissures within the Republican party on this issue, thereby jeopardizing any possibility of courting Hispanic voters, an important demographic who voted overwhelming (71%) for President Obama in the 2012 elections.  Still smarting over the political fallout of the government shutdown and President Obama’s recent threats to rely on the use of executive orders to push through his agenda, as evidenced in the most recent State of the Union address, senior Republicans are now framing their shift away from immigration reform due to a deep sense of mistrust of the President. They argue that sweeping immigration reform would still not guarantee that President Obama would do enough to enforce tougher border security, implement a tracking system, and require more stringent employment verification.

The blocking of legislation by Republicans — immigration reform or even an extension of emergency unemployment insurance — only confirms poll data which shows that the majority of the American public believe that the gridlock in Washington is more a result of the GOP’s obstructionism than President Obama’s lack of leadership skills. The same poll shows that people are resigned to the fact that Republicans are likely to block any of the Obama administration’s initiatives, and that Congress will not be able to work together to pass immigration reform.

This is an unfortunate development on many levels. At the most basic level, a majority of Americans favor providing a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants — or at least offering an opportunity for them to gain legal status. Further, solid evidence points to the fact that comprehensive immigration reform would be beneficial to the U.S. economy.  The Bipartisan Policy Center’s data shows that in the long run, immigration legislation can help to bring down the deficit by $1 trillion, and can contribute to growth by adding jobs and providing additional sources of tax revenues.

Immigration reform cannot be put aside for the current state of partisanship in Washington. Speaker John Boehner and other senior Republican leaders are sympathetic to immigration policy because they understand the social, economic and political implications of such a measure. Their leadership on this issue —and their ability to build Republican Party consensus, even in this difficult political environment — is badly needed. It would send a message that bipartisanship can exist when it truly matters.

Dr. Shyama Venkateswar is the Distinguished Lecturer and Director of the Public Policy Program. Follow her on Twitter: @DrSVenkateswarlike the Public Policy Program at Roosevelt House on Facebook and follow @PcubedatRH on Twitter.