BOISE – Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador, who has been at the center of talks in Congress on immigration reform, says he now believes reform likely won’t happen this year after all, and he’s advised House GOP leaders that “it’s not the time” to negotiate with the Obama administration on the issue.
Labrador’s comments come as reform proponents, including prominent Idaho business and agriculture leaders and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, stepped up a lobbying effort this week to push for reforms.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen this session unless we start seeing some more good-faith efforts on the part of the president to negotiate,” Labrador told reporters Friday.
The recent fight over the government shutdown and fiscal crisis “just exacerbated the lack of trust between the two sides,” the second-term representative said. “There’s no need to negotiate if the issue that they have is that it has to be their bill or the highway.”
Labrador, an immigration lawyer before he was elected to Congress as a tea party favorite, said he had thought reform could be achieved this year. But he said he couldn’t support the sweeping bill that passed the Senate, and Democrats were unwilling to consider the piecemeal approach he’s offered as an alternative in the House.
“We can do something now, but the Senate won’t do something now,” Labrador said. “We could do a guest worker bill right now. … We could do a bill right now for the dairies. We could do something for high-skilled immigration. We can do that now; the Senate does not want to do that now. The Democrats, if you don’t have a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people and fix that problem today, they are unwilling to do anything else.”
On Tuesday, more than 600 immigration reform backers, including a Boise pastor, the head of Idaho’s dairy association and an official from the Idaho Potato Commission, pushed Congress for “broad immigration reform.” The previous week, pro-immigration reform groups in Labrador’s district delivered more than 2,000 signatures on postcards and petitions to his Meridian office, pressing for action.
But Labrador had been sounding a retreat since the deal to end a 16-day government shutdown was reached, a deal he opposed.
“The president was saying, ‘Well, now that we won on this, we’re going to do immigration,’ ” Labrador said. “I hope that he doesn’t learn the wrong lessons from the shutdown, because right now he’s feeling pretty good about himself because he clearly won that fight.”
Labrador said he’s still working on immigration reform.
“We’re going to have the immigration bill that we would propose as the Republican alternative, and hopefully we’ll see maybe a change in the administration in their posture on negotiation,” Labrador said. “It’s not easy legislation. Obviously, we haven’t fixed the immigration system in 30 years for a reason.”
He said, “I hope that we can take over the Senate and we can have a unified front where we can send the president an immigration reform bill. I think it can happen, and I hope it happens probably the first six months of a new term. … If we can’t introduce it now, we can introduce it early in the next term.”