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With House 'Gang of Seven' defections, is immigration reform dead?

An immigration reform plan from the so-called House 'Gang of Seven' coalition appears dead now that two more Republicans have left the group. Reform advocates say they'll keep pushing for legislative action.
An immigration reform plan from the so-called House 'Gang of Seven' coalition appears dead now that two more Republicans have left the group. Reform advocates say they'll keep pushing for legislative action.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Predictions that there would be no action on comprehensive immigration reform this year in the House of Representatives had been piling up all summer, but now it's official: An immigration plan from the so-called 'Gang of Seven,' a bipartisan House coalition that had been working on a reform proposal, appears to be kaput

Two more Republicans, Reps. John Carter and Sam Johnson of Texas, announced today that they could "no longer continue" in negotiations and are leaving the group. Another Republican, Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, left the 'gang' in June over a disagreement on health care access for immigrants.

What does this mean? Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez framed it this way in the Washington Post:

“It doesn’t appear that we’re going to move forward with the group of seven,” Dem Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a key player on immigration as a member of the gang, said in an interview with me. “The process is stalled. I don’t believe we’re going to produce a bill anytime soon.”

It's big news, but not unexpected. With the end of the year looming, Congress wrangling over the federal budget and, until recently, talk of military involvement in Syria, the prospects of an immigration overhaul making it through Congress this year have dimmed.

Nearly three months after the Senate approved a comprehensive immigration reform bill, the House had yet to produce anything other than a handful of stand-alone bills. On Friday, local immigration reform activists said the news was nothing shocking.

"No surprises," said Jorge-Mario Cabrera of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, a local immigrant advocacy group. "The fact that two more Republicans have decided for whatever reason to leave the dialogue table tells us politics is getting in the way of reasonable solutions."

Republicans Carter and Johnson also blamed politics for their departure in their joint statement Friday, but from a different perspective:

We want to be clear.  The problem is politics.  Instead of doing what’s right for America, President Obama time and again has unilaterally disregarded the U.S. Constitution, the letter of the law and bypassed the Congress – the body most representative of the people - in order to advance his political agenda.  We will not tolerate it.

The Carter-Johnson statement went on to complain, not about Obama's immigration policies but rather, measures like "the President’s hallmark legislation – the Affordable Care Act (ACA) - ObamaCare." Today, House Republicans advanced a federal spending plan that would fund the government, but which would defund Obama's health care reform plan under the Affordable Care Act, most of which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

Carter and Johnson concluded in their statement that "the administration’s practice of hand-picking what parts of laws they wish to enforce has irrevocably damaged our efforts of fixing our broken immigration system."

Democratic "Gang of Seven" members have been reacting to the news, among them Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose). From Lofgren's statement:

While these two very conservative Congressmen do not agree with me on many issues, I am sure that they would agree that our efforts during these last several years were characterized by mutual respect and serious legislative work.

Solid work was put into crafting immigration measures and these efforts, or portions of them, may yet help the process as efforts continue to achieve top to bottom reform of our country’s broken immigration system.

Might any of these "portions" be advanced piecemeal? It's a possibility. In the last few months House Republicans have introduced bills dealing with specific aspects of immigration, mostly tied to enforcement. But if these bills move forward, there remains the chance that House and Senate leaders could hammer out a compromise in conference discussions.

On Thursday, Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte assured there would still be action on immigration reform, saying that members of his committee had four immigration-related bills in the works, in addition to bills the committee has already approved. 

Some pro-immigration reform advocates see a silver lining to the "Gang of Seven" disintegration. In a statement, the Washington, D.C. advocacy group America's Voice suggested that the death of a bipartisan coalition could allow House Democrats pushing for an overhaul to be "freed from the cul de sac they’ve been stuck in." From the group's statement:

It means that House Democrats no longer have to hold back in deference to the G7 process and can bring their pressure to bear on House Republican leadership.

Even before today's announcement, many observers had already given immigration reform up for dead this year, with predictions that it will resurface with better odds after next year's primaries, in 2015 or even as far out as 2017.

Proponents of a legislative immigration overhaul say they'll continue to push for one, with marches and other actions planned this fall. Two immigration rallies are being planned for the near future in Los Angeles, one this Sunday and another on Oct. 5.