Immigration Reform: Passing Legislation or Passing on the Opportunity for Change


When you think about immigration reform, what pictures come to mind? Do you see fences popping up along the United States borders? Do you picture students fighting to further their education? Are businesses at the table in your image of immigration reform?

Immigration is a complex and multifaceted issue. Each of the above images factor into immigration reform conversations with four recurring questions dominating immigration reform debates:
• What to do about the 11 million+ undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States?
• How does the United States tighten its borders?
• How does the United States prevent businesses from hiring undocumented workers?
• How can the legal immigration system be improved?

Congress has spent years debating immigration without much movement toward feasible solutions. Both the Obama and Bush administrations have worked to address the issue. In 2007, President George W. Bush tried to tackle the system without success, and President Obama made it one of his goals to overhaul the system during his first term to no avail. Now, as we are facing the end of 2013, President Obama has once again declared immigration reform as one of his top priorities to take on before the end of 2013, stating, “everybody knows our current immigration system is broken; across the political spectrum people understand that” (“Republican,” 2013).

Even though there has yet to be major immigration reform during his administration, President Obama has made attempts to amend the system. Most notably, he signed the executive order which granted deferred action for the 800,000 DREAMers-those young people who were brought to the United States as children, have grown up here, feel in their hearts they are American, and wish to stay and study. This action has not promised this group citizenship, but it has made deporting them low priority.

So where does immigration reform stand in Congress? Currently, the House Democrats have introduced a bill for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR). The bill, called The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (H.R. 15), is derived from the Senate passed S.744. H.R. 15 differs in terms of its plan for border security; replacing the Corker-Hoeven Amendment found in S.744 with the House border security bill H.R. 1417.

Many argue the largest point of contention for those who oppose CIR is the option to give undocumented immigrants a 13-year pathway to citizenship; referring to it as amnesty. Largely due to this perceived concern, GOP leadership has outright stated the bill proposed by House Democrats will not get the opportunity to be put to a vote. However, this would go against public demand: “In general, polls consistently show that Americans want Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and are frustrated with the lack of progress in Washington,” (“Understanding,” 2013).

Path to Citizenship

One consequence the Republican Party could face by ignoring immigration reform is backlash from the Latino community. This could be detrimental to the future election of GOP candidates as the Latino vote played a large role in the 2012 Presidential elections. If the GOP wants to gain confidence amongst this group, then it needs to re-evaluate its response to issues that matter to this community, like immigration reform.

How is the Republican Party responding? Republicans opposing CIR are pushing a piecemeal approach to immigration reform. They believe the best way to tackle the issue is by breaking down the different areas of concern and passing separate legislation for each. It is billed as a cautious approach that allows time for Americans to gain confidence in the process. Additionally, many in the Republican Party are taking the position that passing something is better than passing nothing at all.

Some may wonder, with all the dysfunction government has currently shown, why take on this issue now? There are those who would argue that CIR is more likely to pass because the GOP needs to do something to boost its image, or that President Obama is trying to deflect attention away from the negative press surrounding the Affordable Care Act. The reality is immigration reform can take the United States in a positive direction over the long term. It can keep the bright minds of students graduating from U.S. colleges and universities inside our borders and part of the United States’ economic engine. Reform will aid in preventing the separation of families. Additionally, it has many positive economic impacts including spurring economic growth, reducing federal deficits, jump-starting housing recovery, and expanding the labor force to increase the pool of highly skilled workers for employers to hire (Tallent, Graham, Zamora, & Masley, 2013, p. 7).

The cost of doing nothing


To learn more about this issue visit:

American Immigration Council
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition


(2013, August 12). Understanding public opinion on immigration reform. America’s Voice. Retrieved from

(2013, October 28). Republican lobbying groups step up push on House to pass immigration reform. Fox News. Retrieved from

Benac, N. (2013, May 6). Everything you need to know about immigration reform and the ‘gang of eight’ bill. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Foley, E. (2013, October 29). Conservatives pushing immigration reform say piecemeal approach gains steam. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Foley, E. (2012, June 15). Obama administration to stop deporting younger undocumented immigrants and grant work permits. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Immigration Policy Center. (2013, October 29). A guide to H.R. 15: The border security, economic opportunity, and immigration modernization act. Retrieved from

Immigration Policy Center. (2013, July 10). A guide to S.744: Understanding the 2013 senate immigration bill. Retrieved from

Tallent, R., Graham, M., Zamora, L., & Masley, K. (2013). Immigration reform: Implications for growth, budgets, and housing. Bipartisan Policy Center.

About the Author:
Cara Dembkoski is a student in Lesley University’s Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences studying Intercultural Relations. Her current role is International Conference and Community Relations graduate intern in Wheelock College’s Office of Government and External Affairs. Previously Cara worked in the event management field focusing on fundraising and development for non-profit organizations