By now, the House should have passed the Senate's immigration reforms and President Barack Obama should have signed the legislation into law. Or the House could have passed its own comprehensive approach and started negotiating with the Senate on a final version. Instead House Republicans from Florida and elsewhere are stalling and fearful of bipartisanship, compromise or consensus-building that could lead to real reform.
The lack of urgency and the willingness to continue to be obstructionists is discouraging but not unexpected. The bipartisan 68-32 Senate vote for sweeping immigration reform last month sent a strong message that was understood by everyone but House Republicans. They remain hostage to the party's most conservative members, vowing not to pursue a comprehensive solution and to put off tackling immigration until the fall or later.
Translation: Republicans may vote for separate pieces of legislation such as spending more money on border security, but they do not want to deal with 11 million undocumented immigrants who already are in this country and part of our communities. They fear passing anything that could lead to negotiations with the Senate that could produce a more enlightened approach.
Don't look for any help from Florida Republicans. Reps. Dennis Ross of Lakeland, Vern Buchanan of Sarasota and Richard Nugent of Spring Hill are among those embracing an incremental approach that will not address the real issue. Reps. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor and C.W. Bill Young of Indian Shores, who represent more moderate districts, also are more willing to follow the Republican leadership in Washington than address the needs of their communities. Even Sen. Marco Rubio, who helped lead the way on immigration reform in the Senate, is shying away from encouraging the House to act as he takes the heat from conservatives who oppose even a difficult path to citizenship.
The Senate legislation is not perfect, but it offers an overall vision that could be improved upon. It illustrates why the best hope for a comprehensive approach is one piece of legislation instead of multiple bills, because it forces compromises. The Senate bill includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, even though it would take more than a decade and include strict requirements from learning English to paying fines and back taxes. It also addresses issues such as guest visas for low-skilled immigrants, visas for highly skilled workers and a new agricultural guest worker program — all important issues to Florida. But to win more votes from conservative Republicans, Democrats agreed to spend $46 billion to strengthen the border and set security requirements that must be met before permanent resident green cards are issued.
Those tradeoffs reflect the art of compromise, but compromise is a dirty word to House Republicans. Stalling will not make the immigration issue disappear, and attempting to increase border security without providing a path to citizenship will not win Republicans any support among Hispanic voters, who turned away from the party in the 2012 election. Rubio and 13 other Senate Republicans recognized that reality and embraced comprehensive reform. Now Obama, the Senate and the voters should keep the pressure on the House to do the same.