Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Hey, Congress: It's comprehensive immigration reform or nothing

Some members of Congress argue that the Senate immigration reform bill should be broken up and considered piecemeal. But only comprehensive legislation will pull together the strange-bedfellow coalition necessary to secure enough votes to pass both the House and Senate.

(Page 2 of 2)

But the newly introduced bill is similar to more than a dozen bills that have failed to be enacted by previous Congresses, including the Temporary Agricultural Worker Act of 1998, the Agricultural Job Opportunity Benefits and Security Act of 2000, and the Temporary Agricultural Labor Reform Act of 2007, which Representative Goodlatte introduced six years ago.

Skip to next paragraph

Passing stand-alone immigration bills would also require multiple bargains and agreements across parties and across interest groups.

This kind of bargaining – called “legislative logrolling” – could move step-by-step, piecemeal immigration legislation forward. With this practice, a legislator agrees to trade her vote on a bill she cares less about for another legislator’s vote on a bill that is much more important to her.

For example, a New York City Democrat who wants to help high-tech businesses but cares less about agriculture might agree with a Texas Republican to vote in September for a new temporary agricultural worker program that benefits Texas, if his Texas colleague will vote in October for legislation giving green cards to foreign students who earn PhDs from US universities – which benefits New York.

But such an approach to immigration reform would necessitate numerous, complex vote trades during a long sequence of bills being introduced and voted upon. The piecemeal approach will not work in this Congress because there is simply not enough trust among its members (and their constituencies) to enable such logrolling.

Too many members of Congress reason that if provisions others want most are considered first and passed as stand-alone legislation, the legislation they want most may not even get a vote in the House or Senate. Since lawmakers cannot trust one another to enact immigration reform piece by piece, it must be voted on all at once.

The good news is that soon after the Memorial Day break, a bipartisan House group is expected to introduce a comprehensive reform bill close enough to the Senate’s that differences could be worked out in conference.

However, Speaker of the House John Boehner did not object at the beginning of the legislative session to Rep. Goodlatte’s plan to hold extensive hearings on individual pieces of immigration legislation. If Mr. Boehner fails to support the comprehensive reform approach when the bill is introduced and opts for Rep. Goodlatte’s slow, piecemeal approach, it is unlikely the American people will see any difference from the pattern of failed immigration legislation introduced over the past few years.

Members of Congress introduce immigration bills popular with their constituencies that have zero chance of passing both houses but enable them to issue press releases stating they have done something, while, in reality, nothing changes.

But polls show that the majority of Americans – both Republicans and Democrats – support broad immigration reform. If Congress wants to meet that demand, members will stop avoiding change by floating unrealistic, piecemeal proposals and make the tough compromises of comprehensive reform.

Rey Koslowski is an associate professor of political science at the University at Albany and a non-resident fellow of the Migration Policy Institute.


Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer


Editors' picks

Doing Good


What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!