Syria adds to uphill battle for U.S. immigration reform

WASHINGTON Thu Sep 5, 2013 5:56am IST

A man and boys inspect a site hit by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus September 4, 2013. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

A man and boys inspect a site hit by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus September 4, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Bassam Khabieh

Related Topics

Rajalakshmi (C), 28, smiles after winning the Miss Wheelchair India beauty pageant in Mumbai November 26, 2014. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Miss Wheelchair India

Seven women from across India participated in the country's second wheelchair beauty pageant, which aims to open doors for the wheelchair-bound in modelling, film and television, according to organisers  Slideshow 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A heated debate in Washington over possible military strikes on Syria has created a fresh obstacle to the effort to pass U.S. immigration reform legislation, threatening to sap momentum for the effort and further crowd Congress' fall calendar.

Looming budget battles with President Barack Obama had been expected to sideline any action on immigration in the Republican-led House of Representatives for at least a few weeks anyway.7

Now, the focus on whether to authorize Obama to launch strikes on Syria has further cut into the time Congress has to consider the immigration issue this year.

"Syria is a big and important issue," said Doug Holtz-Eakin, president of the conservative American Action Forum and a backer of immigration reform. "It's going to take time and legislative energy. The budget fights are going to be an important part of the fall landscape. There's not a lot of time."

The Senate in June passed a bipartisan bill backed by Obama that would provide a path to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented immigrants, most of them Hispanic, but it faces almost no chance of passage in its current form in the House.

When U.S. lawmakers left Washington a month ago for their summer break, supporters of immigration legislation worried that the recess might be dominated by town hall-style meetings filled with angry voters railing against reform.

That didn't happen and, in fact, a handful of Republican House lawmakers including Congressman Daniel Webster of Florida and Aaron Schock of Illinois signaled new support for giving legal status to the undocumented.

"Politically, August was definitely a win for immigration," said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, an analyst at Third Way, a moderate think tank.

Angelo Amador, vice president of labor and workforce policy at the National Restaurant Association, said that while "there is little room" for Congress to take up immigration reform now, he sees a possibility of some movement in October.

Congress, which will formally reconvene on Monday, has only nine legislative days in September. Syria could take up at least the first few days, with the rest likely devoted to budget issues. Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner has said that budget matters were his top priority this fall.

Congress faces two near-term fiscal deadlines: it must pass a measure to keep the government from shutting down by the end of September and by mid-October, it must increase in the country's borrowing limit or risk a potential debt default.

TRANQUIL SUMMER

While House Republicans are divided on immigration reform, advocates believe the growing clout of Hispanic voters will keep pressure on the party to pass legislation.

Immigration supporters worried that this summer there would be a repeat of the outcry that arose when Congress wrestled with broad reform in 2006 and 2007.

During a recess in May 2006, opponents sent thousands of bricks to Senate and House offices to show their support for building a big barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Amador remembers hearing ethnic slurs six years ago at meetings to discuss immigration reform. By contrast, when he visited Columbia, South Carolina this summer for an event with restaurant owners, the conversation was respectful and people seemed far more open to changes.

To counter expected protests, business, labor and immigrants rights groups launched a blitz of activity in August, including ad campaigns and meetings with lawmakers.

Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy, who chairs a House subcommittee on immigration, said that in most of the meetings he held in his South Carolina district during the break, voters did not even bring the issue up.

At one luncheon at the local chamber of commerce in Greer attended by two dozen local business leaders, Gowdy brought up immigration reform in his opening remarks, as he often does at such events.

None of the business leaders pressed him on the subject, posing questions instead about Syria, government spending and federal flood insurance.

Gowdy said in an interview that the reaction was typical, noting that earlier in the day he visited a local Costco warehouse retailer where residents often stop him to discuss issues of concern.

"Every aisle (in the store) is a mini-town hall," he said. "Not a single person mentioned immigration."

Gowdy, whose district includes farmers and multinational companies such as BMW and Michelin, wants to see the visa system for foreign workers overhauled and is open to legal status for some undocumented immigrants, such as those brought to the United States when they were children.

Gowdy, who favors a piecemeal approach rather than a big package, said he did not think the relatively tranquil August recess would affect the debate in Washington. "Whatever the prospects were before we left, I don't think the prospects have been diminished or improved," he said. (Reporting By Caren Bohan; Editing by Fred Barbash and David Storey)

FILED UNDER:

SAARC Summit

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Ferguson Riots

Ferguson Riots

More than 400 arrested as Ferguson protests spread to other U.S. cities   Full Article 

Taiwan Election

Taiwan Election

Taiwan vote tests waters for pro-China govt ahead of presidential polls  Full Article 

Rakhine Plight

Rakhine Plight

Exclusive - Poor and besieged, Myanmar's Rakhine join Rohingya exodus  Full Article 

Ebola Outbreak

Ebola Outbreak

Ebola vaccine from Glaxo passes early safety test  Full Article 

Korea Ferry Crew

Korea Ferry Crew

Stigma and isolation haunt S.Korean families of convicted ferry crew  Full Article 

Thanksgiving Pardon

Thanksgiving Pardon

Cheese bests Mac in quest for Obama's Thanksgiving turkey pardon  Full Article 

Hong Kong Protest

Hong Kong Protest

Hong Kong riot police clear protest site, arrest student leaders  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device  Full Coverage