With the cliff resolved, immigration back on the table

Latinos and immigrants participate in a rally on immigration reform in front of the White House on Nov. 8, 2012, in Washington, D.C.
Latinos and immigrants participate in a rally on immigration reform in front of the White House on Nov. 8, 2012, in Washington, D.C.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

With the fiscal cliff mess resolved, albeit temporarily, is immigration next on Congress’ agenda?

On Wednesday, as the dust settled around the cliff, the Obama administration issued an executive order that aims to ease the process for direct relatives of citizens to stay in the country while awaiting a visa. It is the latest executive order targeted to reform immigration without passing a bill in Congress; in August, the administration began halting the deportation of young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

While gun control, taxes, and the fiscal cliff mess have dominated headlines, huge Latino turnout in the last election has not been lost on legislators and it’s only a matter of time before there is legislative efforts to reform immigration. Republicans have voiced support in tackling immigration, but so far have only pledged piece-meal, zero-sum reform and special interests, like anti-immigration group Numbers USA, appear to be as strong as ever. And on a rare appearance on Meet the Press Sunday, Obama suggested that an immigration overhaul was a “top priority” for his next four years.

The administration’s directive will take effect on March 4th, allowing illegal immigrants who can demonstrate that their time away from an American, spouse, child, or parent would create “extreme hardship” can apply for a visa without leaving the United States and only have to leave the country briefly in order to return to their native country to pick up their visa.

Previously, illegal immigrants applying for a visa would be required to leave for months or years at a time to either wait for their visa outside the country or wait three or  ten years to reenter after overstaying a visa. Sources told the Los Angeles Times that the administration might expand the changes to include relatives of lawful permanent residents.

The White House is reportedly set to begin a public push this month, the Huffington Post reported, though with the looming debt ceiling debates, real, legislative progress seems unlikely to happen soon, though sources said Boehner’s decision to bring the fiscal cliff to the floor without majority support, breaking the so-called “Hastert Rule,” gave them hope for the future of immigration reform in a Republican-controlled House.

“If something is of such importance that the GOP establishment [is] telling Boehner, ‘You must do this. You need to get this off the table soon,’” a Democratic aide told the Huffington Post, the speaker could break the Hastert Rule again. “He already did it with this fiscal issue, so I would not be surprised if when it came down to it he puts up a bill that he just allows to go through with a combination of Democratic and Republican votes, without worrying about a majority of the majority,” the aide continued.