It’s great that the U.S. Senate approved a bipartisan immigration reform bill Thursday. But it’s disappointing that neither of Kansas’ senators supported it – and that prospects of the bill passing the GOP-controlled House appear slim.
The bill, which was developed by a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators, doubles the size of the U.S. Border Patrol and completes 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. It also requires employers to verify the legal status of workers and provides a three-year pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., made clear early on that he opposed the reform. Earlier this month he was one of only 15 senators who tried to prevent the Senate from even debating it. He said in a statement Thursday that the bill “promises too much and is not a realistic solution.”
Many observers thought that Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., would support the bill, as he has pushed to expand the number of visas for certain highly skilled immigrants (which is part of the bill). But Moran voted against it Thursday and supported a GOP filibuster earlier this week.
Moran acknowledged that “our immigration system is broken.” But he said in a statement that he opposed the bill because it lumps “every immigration and border security problem together into one massive and flawed bill.”
The reason the Senate didn’t follow the piecemeal approach Moran prefers is that passing the reforms requires compromise. Republicans have insisted on increased border security, while Democrats demand that there is a pathway to citizenship. Linking the reforms is why the bill has gained bipartisan support.
That’s also why Republicans who oppose reform are pressuring House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, not to allow a vote on a comprehensive bill. They are afraid that a bipartisan coalition of House lawmakers would approve it.
Some House Republicans, such as Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., realize that their party can’t continue to pursue “self-deportation” policies and expect to win national elections. Business and evangelical groups are also backing the Senate bill – including the Kansas Business Coalition for Immigration Reform, which is composed of more than 20 organizations including the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Farm Bureau and the Wichita Independent Business Association.
But when the House can’t even pass a farm bill, the prospect of it reforming immigration seems remote. Still, a year ago few thought the Senate could pass comprehensive immigration reform. So there’s some hope, albeit small.