Boehner may back limited immigration reform

A recent hire by the speaker of the House has raised hopes that 2014 may be immigration reform's year

Published January 2, 2014 3:05PM (EST)

According to a report in the New York Times, Speaker of the House John Boehner may be preparing to make a push in 2014 for significant changes to the United States' immigration laws.

Boehner-watchers point to two developments in particular as signs of his possible intentions. First, they note his recent hiring of Rebecca Tallent, a former and longtime adviser to Sen. John McCain on immigration issues who was deeply involved in Congress' last two attempts to reform immigration law, in 2003 and 2007. While aides to Boehner claim Tallent was hired in order to carry out Boehner's vision and not her own, the Times reports that immigration reform advocates see Tallent's arrival as a clear sign of Boehner's ultimate intentions.

The second development that has supporters of immigration reform feeling optimistic is Boehner's sudden willingness to publicly rebuke Tea Party-affiliated outside organizations like the Club for Growth, Heritage Action and the Senate Conservatives Fund. These activist organizations are closely aligned with the GOP's Tea Party base and are expected to mobilize in opposition to nearly any kind of immigration reform, which they generally consider to be a form of "amnesty" for those who entered the country illegally. Boehner's rant against these groups during a late-2013 press conference, during which he said they had "lost all credibility," is seen as a sign that the speaker is not afraid to go against these powerful activist groups.

More from the New York Times:

Aides continue to say that Mr. Boehner remains opposed to a single, comprehensive bill like the Senate-passed measure that would tighten border security, increase legal immigration and offer an eventual path to American citizenship for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. Conservatives are staunchly opposed to sweeping legislation that would offer a path to citizenship.

“The American people are skeptical of big, comprehensive bills, and frankly, they should be,” Mr. Boehner told reporters recently. “The only way to make sure immigration reform works this time is to address these complicated issues one step at a time. I think doing so will give the American people confidence that we’re dealing with these issues in a thoughtful way and a deliberative way.”

Nonetheless, immigration activists say they are hopeful that politics may ultimately lead Mr. Boehner to ignore conservative voices who oppose a path to citizenship. Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president in 2012, who took a hard line on immigration, won only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote — a key reason for his loss to President Obama.

By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

MORE FROM Elias Isquith