PHOENIX -- Despite the missed goals, uncertain timetable and at-times heated rhetoric in the Republican-led House of Representatives, immigration-reform supporters remain cautiously optimistic that a game plan is emerging that will have lawmakers voting on the legislation this year.
Action in the House is on hold until after Congress returns from its August recess on Sept. 9. But the five-week break, during which representatives will hold town hall meetings and otherwise gauge the feelings of their constituents, could go a long way toward determining the legislation's fate.
Immigration-rights activists this month are planning to press their case with House lawmakers. Business, religious, law-enforcement and labor groups already have been lobbying aggressively for reform. Opponents of immigration reform — which many critics call "amnesty" for law-breaking immigrants — also are expected to make their voices heard, but the House's inaction so far has provided little to galvanize them.
The break comes as other developments offer renewed hope for supporters of immigration reform.
While House Republican leaders flatly rejected the comprehensive immigration package that the Senate passed June 27, making it seem as though immigration reform was destined to die a slow death, it appears likely that votes on a series of bills are possible in October and that a conference committee with the Senate could be completed in December or early next year, before midterm election-year politics paralyze Capitol Hill.
Reform advocates say they detect a sincere effort by Republican leaders such as House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to come up with solutions for the most vexing problems associated with the nation's broken border system, including addressing the status of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants who have already settled in the country.
At a town hall meeting last month in Racine, Wis., Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee and a possible 2016 White House hopeful, told the audience that the group of House immigration bills would include one "to legalize people who are undocumented," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Hoping to avoid the broad pathway to citizenship included in the Senate-passed plan, many House Republicans are more open to legislation without a special path for most undocumented immigrants. They are more inclined to limit citizenship to young undocumented immigrants, known as "dreamers," and leave the majority of the 11 million who have no legal status without a certain path to citizenship. The idea would allow many to work toward citizenship through existing channels, such as having their children or employers sponsor them, which would be more difficult than allowing them to apply for citizenship on their own after they received permanent residency.
While many reform backers disagree with that concept, they say it at least would provide a starting point for House and Senate negotiations on bringing undocumented immigrants out of the shadows.
Even controversial remarks, such as those made by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa — who caused a furor recently by comparing dreamers with drug runners — might wind up helping the reform movement by reminding Republicans of the political damage that immigration hard-liners can do the GOP brand among Latino voters.
Boehner called King's comments "deeply offensive and wrong" and contrary to the values of the American people and the Republican Party.
Since President Barack Obama's 2012 defeat of Republican Mitt Romney, many Republican leaders have said that the GOP needs to make rebuilding its relationship with Latino voters a priority.
"My sense is ... that momentum is growing," said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., who is part of a bipartisan House group that for months has been working on a comprehensive immigration-reform bill. "Even, to some degree, you're beginning to hear House Republicans change their tune. It's still got a lot of sour notes in it, but at least they are now singing a tune that is talking about possibly getting this done. But it is decision time. We are watching the clock run out."
Contributing: Rebekah L. Sanders of The Republic
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