gang of 8

With debates about Syria, a fresh debt ceiling crisis, and threats from the House Republicans about voting to de-fund Obamacare, the Senate-approved immigration bill has been struggling to get the attention it needs in the House of Representatives. Some people think it’s already dead.

The immigration bill passed by the Senate in July would increase the number of high-skilled immigrants allowed into the US on H1-B visas and create a special visa for foreign entrepreneurs wanting to start companies in the country. While the Senate passed the comprehensive bill with 68 votes, it faces a more daunting task in the House, where Republicans outnumber Democrats and feel less threatened by the prospect of losing votes among pro-reform voters, Hispanics in particular, largely because many of their districts lean heavily conservative on the issue.

On Friday, the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reported that the House Republican leadership was refusing to support the bill, citing comments made by Rep. Luis Gutierrez in an interview, a leading Democrat in a bi-partisan “Gang of Seven” congressmen advocating for the bill. At the same time, however, Gutierrez said he believed there is enough support for reform even among Republicans – it’s just that the leaders hadn’t publicly acknowledged that fact. This nuance wasn’t reflected in Sargent’s headline (“In blow to immigration reform, House ‘gang of seven’ bill looks dead”), or in TechCrunch’s rewrite of the piece, entitled “High-skill immigration reform likely dead in 2013.”

Prospects for passage of a comprehensive bill – which would cover everything from startup visas to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants – took a further blow on Friday when two Republicans dropped out of the Gang of Seven, saying they don’t trust President Obama because he just wants to advance his own political agenda. Instead, the congressmen, Reps. John Carter and Sam Johnson, would support reform initiatives led by House Republicans.

But this debate is far from over. In fact, it looks very much like it’s just politics as usual, as Republicans and Democrats jostle and strategize in the media while holding more complicated positions and working towards other solutions behind the scenes. Last week, for example, President Obama told Telemundo that Republican House leader John Boehner is the only thing standing in the way of immigration reform.

Yesterday, meanwhile, a new story appeared in the Washington Post in which House Republican leaders indicated that they want to get a bill passed after all.  Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) told Hispanic leaders on Thursday that his panel is working on new border-control legislation and stressed the need to find a solution for undocumented immigrants.

“We want to do immigration reform right,” he said, according to the Post.

Earlier this month, Boehner told immigration advocates that reform remains a high priority, despite the wrangling over the debt ceiling.

What remains very much in question is whether the House will support a broad-based approach to immigration reform or try to push a piecemeal approach in which the high-skilled parts are separated from the parts that deal with border security and a path to citizenship.

But for now, one thing we can say for sure is that high-skill immigration reform is not dead. At least not yet. Indeed, no-one should be surprised that this debate continues to be legislated through the media, and that there are no clear solutions on the horizon. That’s the way politics works.

As Politihacks’ Craig Montuori said in his most recent digest, the immigration debate is “reminiscent of the 2009 health care debate, when hope repeatedly died and was reborn over the course of a few weeks.”

Treat the press reports and the political posturing with skepticism.

Illustration by Hallie Bateman.