How an Immigration Bill Could Become Law

A little racial justice School House Rocks.

By Seth Freed Wessler Apr 14, 2013

The Senate’s immigration reform bill we’ve all been twiddling our thumbs waiting for–or marching for in Washington–will most likely be released this week. While the Senate bill will be a starting place, it will not be the final word. It’s unclear what route lawmakers will take, but here are the likely timelines and paths to immigration reform. **A Big Senate Bill:** The bill will go through a normal process in the Senate. Once it’s officially introduced, probably next week, it’ll live in the Senate Judiciary Committee where committee chair Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) already scheduled a hearing for Wednesday, April 17. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will testify. Because of Senate rules and constraints on time, it’s likely the committee won’t tear into the hundreds of pages for a markup until early May. This leaves advocates from across the political spectrum plenty of time for demagoguery and advocacy on the finer points. After weeks of changes, the committee will vote. If all goes as planned it will send a new version of the comprehensive immigration reform to the Senate floor, possibly in early June. Tears will be shed as it’s reworked. And then, perhaps later in June, it will get a vote. It’s expected to pass the Senate. **A Big House Bill:** Nobody really knows what will happen in the messy, reactionary House of Representatives. The reform bill faces a truly uphill fight in that chamber. The first possible route is that the House just votes on the Senate’s bill and it becomes law. It’s extremely unlikely that this will happen because House Republicans aren’t likely to support a major piece of legislation handed over by the Democratic-controlled Senate. This goes especially for a bill many Republicans are likely to call "amnesty" despite the deep conservatism of the Senate bill. So the House could consider it’s own bill, first in the House Judiciary Committee and then as a full chamber. The House has its own version of the Gang of Eight–a Gang of Some Unidentified Number–that’s been secretly drafting reform legislation. It’s reportedly similar to the Senate bill, though with some nuances that provide Republicans more cover. **Bite-Sized Bills From the House:** In a third option, the House may consider and vote on a series of smaller bills on border enforcement, E-verify, the DREAM Act, a path to citizenship for other undocumented immigrants, an expanded program for high-skilled immigrants and agricultural workers, and so on. This would allow rightwingers to vote against the parts that scare them–namely, those that involve pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants–while supporting the enforcement pieces. **Lawmakers from the House and Senate Confab and Report Back:** Whichever approach the House takes, the legislation it produces would have to be reconciled with the Senate bill. To do so, a group of lawmakers from both chambers would have to sit in a room, somehow resolve the differences and then issue a conference report, which would then make its way back to the individual chambers. That new language would likely pass the Senate. In the House, reform advocates hope that Speaker John Boehner will break the so-called Hastert Rule, an unwritten Republican principle that the speaker will not bring a bill to a vote unless it carries the support of a majority of members of the party. Breaking that principle might get the bill through the House with near unanimous support from Democrats and just enough Republican support to make a majority. If it all moves ahead without a glitch, President Obama could find an immigration reform bill on his desk in August. Or, it could all fall apart.