Advocates for comprehensive immigration reform are claiming victory in the August recess. Their argument? They won because they didn’t lose.
With legislation stalled in the Republican-controlled House, the push to overhaul the immigration system has not dominated the national headlines or evening news during the four weeks that Congress has been taking its annual summer vacation.
Proponents of reform say they entered the recess worried that foes of the effort would flood town-hall meetings and stage large rallies, in a repeat of the Tea Party uprising that threw the push for healthcare reform off track in the summer of 2009.
Despite efforts by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and others, that dynamic hasn’t materialized.
“What’s more important than what we have seen is what we haven’t seen,” said Jeremy Robbins, director of the Partnership for a New American Economy, a group co-founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that is advocating for immigration reform. “August was a resounding win for us.”
The conservative activist Grover Norquist, who is pushing for immigration reform, also cited the lack of major opposition as the dog that didn’t bark in August. “There’s nothing like that,” he told The Hill on Tuesday. “The anti-immigrant stuff is an inch deep and a mile wide.”
At the same time, the modest rallies in favor of reform have fallen short of a groundswell of support.
Advocates say they did not plan their own large-scale rallies but targeted their efforts to individual congressional districts, and they cited endorsements of a path to citizenship by a number of House Republicans as evidence of their success.
“We never approached August with the idea were going to move 100 House Republicans into the yes column,” said Tom Snyder, who is managing the AFL-CIO’s campaign for legislation that includes a path to citizenship.
Snyder and Robbins said on a conference call with reporters Thursday that they always viewed the recess as a potential challenge, citing concerns that Republicans would return to Washington hardened against reform because of opposition from vocal constituents. “Recess is something that panders to the extreme,” Robbins said.
The advocates said they remained optimistic about the chances for final legislation despite the uncertain outlook in the House, where Republicans are likely to focus on fiscal fights until at least October and potentially the entire fall.
A bipartisan proposal from a group of seven negotiators is stalled because Republicans in the group say it lacks support from the majority required by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to call a vote on immigration legislation.
While lawmakers in both parties have said they want to get a final bill signed by the end of the year in advance of the 2014 midterm elections, advocates said there would still be a window of opportunity early next year before the campaigns begin in earnest.
Boehner has said he wants to get reform done, and backers of the effort said their optimism stemmed in large part because of the electoral imperative that many Republican leaders see in winning over Hispanic voters in future national elections.
“The House Republicans either get it done, or they get blamed for blocking it. It’s as simple as that,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice.
Sharry and others have made clear that while they want to help Republicans succeed, they are threatening serious political consequences in 2014 and 2016 if reform dies.
“We would love to be patting the Republicans on the back for finding a way forward,” Sharry said. “But if they don’t, we will be kicking their ass.”