It was one year ago Friday that the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive bill to address what everyone acknowledges is a dysfunctional U.S. immigration system.
The bill was aimed, of course, at addressing the millions of people who have come across the Mexican border to live in the United States undocumented, but it also addressed other broken elements, such as work visas for technically skilled immigrants and an improved verification system for employers.
It was compromise legislation negotiated by the "gang of eight," the name given to the four Republican and four Democratic senators who hammered out the deal. It gave a path to legality for undocumented immigrants without a carte blanche waiver of their past actions. That compromise was reflected in a 68-32 vote on the Senate floor.
"Is this legislation perfect or what I would have drafted? Absolutely not," Sen. Orrin Hatch wrote last year in a Tribune op-ed on why he voted for it. "But as it stands now, the Senate immigration bill makes sure that these 11 million people are paying into society."
Then it hit the House, where it became yet another symbol of Congress’ inability to do its job in any reasonable fashion. Leaders wouldn’t even allow it to make it to the House floor for fear that a coalition of moderate Republicans would join Democrats and actually pass it.
How bad is the gridlock? So bad that now, a year later, 27 Republican Utah legislators – a group that likely falls somewhere right of even the House mainstream – is begging Utah’s House members to be part of an immigration deal that actually becomes law.
"The current system is broken, and the United States cannot afford to wait any longer to fix it," states a letter to the congressmen from the 27 legislators, including House Speaker Becky Lockhart and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser. They said both high- and low-skill industries in Utah are stifled by the inaction.
Honestly, it’s hard to be optimistic. The House agenda is driven by a frustrated element that is perhaps best captured in the recent departure of one of the House’s brightest stars, Rep. Eric Cantor, who was beaten in a primary by a tea party-leaning opponent who said Cantor was soft on immigration. How long can they go on trying to satisfy this fringe?
House leaders need to stare into the abyss, and blink. That doesn’t mean that they give up their leverage and take any deal. But they do have to take a deal, and it won’t be everything they want. Such is the cost of governing instead of posturing, and even their soulmates in the Utah Legislature know it.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.