Can GOP Keep House in 2014 Without Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

By Tom K. Wong, Ph.D.,, @twong002

As Republicans prepare to meet to discuss how immigration reform will proceed in the House, Speaker John Boehner has maintained that he will adhere to the Hastert rule when it comes to immigration – in other words, he will not support any piece of legislation that does not have majority support among Republican representatives.

Much of this Republican caucus will involve discussions between House Republican leadership and the Republican rank-and-file over how immigration reform fits into the party’s short-term and long-term political prospects. Here, Republicans are at odds. On the one hand, Republican leadership will undoubtedly have an eye towards the future viability of the Republican brand – this includes the ability of Republicans to compete in national elections. On the other hand, many of the Republican rank-and-file may have an eye towards their own short-term electoral survival. Whereas the former may mean supporting comprehensive immigration reform, the latter may lead some within the Republican rank-and-file to oppose it.

For Republican leadership with an eye towards the viability of the party one of the most immediate concerns may be holding onto Republican control of the House in 2014. There are currently 234 Republicans and 201 Democrats in the House. This means that a Republican loss/Democratic gain of 17 seats will shift the balance of power. When viewed from this perspective the question that leadership should be asking, irrespective of the Hastert rule, is will opposition to immigration reform cost 17 seats in 2014?

To start, there are 33 Republican representatives who are expected to oppose an S.744-type of immigration reform bill, but who are electorally vulnerable headed into 2014. Taking a closer look at these 33 representatives, 18 are in competitive/swing districts. A Republican loss/Democratic gain of these 18 seats, all else equal (I know, all is rarely equal) means a Democratically-controlled House in 2014.

In comparing the districts of these 18 representatives with the districts of Republicans who are not electorally vulnerable and are in safe red districts, clear demographic differences emerge that magnify the salience and importance of supporting immigration reform.

First, we see that the Asian percentage of the total population is 2.2 times higher in these 18 districts than it is in safer Republican districts. This difference, 6.2% versus 2.8%, is highly statistically significant – in other words, the difference is not due to chance. We also see that the Hispanic/Latino percentage of the total population is 1.5 times higher. This difference, 14.6% versus 10.1%, is also statistically significant.

Electoral competition does not occur in a vacuum and, as some Republicans have suggested, increased outreach to white voters may attenuate the electoral effects of demographic change. However, when viewed from a different lens, we see even more striking differences. The average number of young Hispanics/Latinos and Asians who will come of voting age in 2014 is 1.7 times higher in these 18 districts than it is in safer Republican districts. This difference, 10,464 versus 6,171, is highly statistically significant. This trend continues when looking at the young Hispanic/Latino and Asian population who will come of voting age in 2016.

In fact, 6 representatives will see their total 2012 margin of victory eclipsed by the number of young Hispanics/Latinos and Asians who turn 18 in 2014.

In addition, 1 representative’s 2012 margin of victory will be eclipsed by the number of young Hispanics/Latinos and Asians who turn 18 in 2016 and 4 more representatives have young Hispanic/Latino and Asians populations that place their long-term electoral survival in doubtI note here that there are other Republicans who face similar outlooks, such as Representative David Valadao (CA-21). However, Valadao has expressed support for immigration reform.

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 4.07.07 PM

Another group of Republican representatives is also worth mentioning. There are 10 representatives who are in traditionally safe Republican districts, but are electorally vulnerable and represent districts that are rapidly changing demographically.

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 4.06.25 PM

It is yet unclear how Republicans will proceed on immigration. However, it seems clear that the approach that Republicans take and, perhaps more importantly, whether they are perceived as working towards or standing in the way of reform, will have serious implications in the districts identified above.  

Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego. He is an expert on immigration politics and policy. He is a research associate at CCIS and beginning in fall 2013 he will be Director of the International Migration Studies Program at UC San Diego.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the House: Will the SAFE Act Pass?

By Tom K. Wong, Ph.D.,, @twong002

After the Senate passed S.744 attention shifted immediately to the House. While an upcoming July 10th conference wherein Republican representatives are set to gather to discuss immigration will provide greater clarity in terms of what we can expect in the weeks ahead, Speaker of the House John Boehner has already indicated that he will adhere to the Hastert rule when it comes to immigration reform. What this means is that we are unlikely to see S.744 debated and then voted on in the House. Rather, we are likely to see stand-alone immigration bills introduced, debated, and then voted on, one by one (e.g., the piecemeal approach).

While a House vote on S.744 or an equivalent comprehensive immigration reform package is still possible, the next series of posts in the CIR 2013 Blog will focus on simulating vote outcomes for the major stand-alone bills that are already working their way through the House, beginning with the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act or SAFE Act.

The SAFE Act focuses on interior immigration enforcement. While Title III of S.744 also focuses on interior immigration enforcement, the SAFE Act is distinct. First, the SAFE Act would make being undocumented, more specifically, “being unlawfully present in the United States,” a federal crime. It is already a federal crime to enter the U.S. without authorization. The SAFE Act would thus add the act of living (without authorization) to this list. The bill also provides states and localities “specific congressional authorization to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law and includes provisions to facilitate their assistance.” Moreover, as described by the House Judiciary Committee, it allows states and localities to enact and enforce their own immigration laws, which speaks directly to state-level immigration policies such as Arizona’s SB 1070 and Alabama’s HB 56.

The SAFE Act carries many of the hallmarks of H.R. 4437 – the restrictive immigration enforcement bill passed in the House in 2005, which sparked nationwide protests in 2006. For example section 203 of H.R. 4437 also made unlawful presence a crime and section 220, among other sections, also affirmed the authority of states and localities to assist in enforcing federal immigration laws.

While proponents of the SAFE Act see tougher interior immigration enforcement as an essential component of immigration reform, critics oppose it as an overly punitive measure. The SAFE Act is thus sure to be a lightning rod of controversy as the immigration debate moves forward in the House.

Will the SAFE Act pass in the House?

The answer is yes and no. Congressional efforts to tighten interior immigration enforcement did not end with H.R. 4437. Year after year, legislation has been introduced that either affirms the authority of localities to enforce federal immigration laws or facilitates and enhances it. These distinctions are meaningful, as the varying degrees of restrictiveness in interior immigration enforcement have led to markedly different vote outcomes.

Thus the conclusion is that the SAFE Act will likely pass, but if it is amended so that the bill includes stricter and even more punitive enforcement provisions it will not.

The following provides two examples.

SAFE Act “Lite”

An analysis of 2,067 roll call votes that speak to local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration officials (e.g., “affirms the inherent authority of,” prohibits federal funds for sanctuary cities) shows passage. Analyzing these past votes and then simulating a vote for current House representatives shows 233 “solid yes” votes. An additional 9 representatives are categorized as “lean yes.” This gives us a range of 233 to 242 potential “yes” votes. Among these, 232 are Republicans and 10 are Democrats. Contact author for full list.


However, during the 2005 debate over H.R. 4437 an amendment was introduced and voted on (the Sullivan amendment) that moved interior immigration enforcement further to the right along a permissive/restrictive spectrum. This amendment not only sought to affirm the authority of localities to enforce immigration laws, but it also facilitated and enhanced their ability to do so via changes to immigration detention (see section 240D of the amendment; in short, all apprehended undocumented immigrants, with some exceptions, would be held in immigration detention). Surprisingly, the Sullivan amendment was criticized by Republican Representative Jim Sensenbrenner as being “unworkable” given it would lead to overcrowding of immigration detention centers and thus “all of a sudden, there are going to be criminal aliens that are going to be either released on the street or not being put in detention simply because there are not the slots that are available” (see Sullivan amendment link for text from Congressional record). He also voiced practical concerns about infrastructure and costs.

The amendment would have also changed the landscape of interior immigration enforcement by expanding the practice of expedited removal nationwide. Expedited removal gives the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the authority to remove (deport) undocumented immigrants without the oversight of an immigration judge. Currently limited to border regions, the Sullivan amendment would have extended this practice to all parts of the country, wherever undocumented immigrants where apprehended. Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee criticized this aspect of the amendment for clearly violating civil liberties and rights of due process.

Analyzing the Sullivan amendment and then simulating a vote for current House representatives shows 193 “solid yes” votes. An additional 15 representatives are categorized as “lean yes” – 9 Republicans and 6 Democrats. This gives us a range of 193 to 208 potential “yes” votes. 32 Republicans are categorized as “lean no.” Contact author for full list.


If the SAFE Act simply affirmed the authority of localities to enforce federal immigration laws and withheld federal funds from sanctuary cities, the results show passage by a healthy margin with 233 to 242 “yes” votes. However, the SAFE Act goes further than this – it is yet unclear how far it will go. If what the SAFE Act ultimately becomes is analogous to the Sullivan amendment, then the results show no passage with only 193 to 208 “yes” votes.

To be clear, the contrast I make here between the “SAFE Act Lite” and the Sullivan amendment represent two very different positions along the interior immigration enforcement spectrum. However, this is instructive in that it shows that moderate reforms to interior immigration enforcement can attract bipartisan support, whereas more extreme reforms are likely to attract broader bipartisan opposition. This broader opposition, as the Sullivan amendment shows, can not align across claims to civil liberties and rights of due process, but also on “workability,” meaning the practicality and costs associated with significant changes to interior immigration enforcement. I should note here that what constitutes “extreme” is a major wildcard. If representatives today have a softer view of extreme than they did in 2005, then we can expect more support for interior enforcement measures such as those included in the Sullivan amendment (and vice versa).

As the SAFE Act moves closer to final passage and the details of the bill become clearer, I will update this analysis. 

Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego. He is an expert on immigration politics and policy. He is a research associate at CCIS and beginning in fall 2013 he will be Director of the International Migration Studies Program at UC San Diego.

Will Comprehensive Immigration Reform Pass in the Senate? An Update

By Tom K. Wong, Ph.D.,, @twong002

This week marks a critical test for comprehensive immigration reform. In advance of a scheduled vote on the bill, I revisit the initial predictions I made for the Senate in March. Scroll down for the results.

The Senate bill has largely remained in tact – mostly due to the absence of floor votes on a number of significant amendments. However, there have been some major developments. First, several efforts to use border triggers to prevent undocumented immigrants from obtaining legal status have been defeated. Second, the Corker-Hoeven amendment to significantly bolster border security via a combination of increased personnel, fencing, technology, and other resources is likely to be voted on (and passed) this week.

I thus update my previous analyses by a) factoring in recent roll call votes on border trigger amendments – the Grassley, Thune, Paul, and Cornyn amendments – and b) past voting on border security measures that mirror the Corker-Hoeven amendment.

Republicans to Watch

Altogether, Republicans that are likely to support the bill are:

Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Jeff Flake (Arizona), John McCain (Arizona), Marco Rubio (Florida), Mark Kirk (Illinois), Susan Collins (Maine), Dean Heller (Nevada), Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire), Jeffrey Chiesa (New Jersey), John Hoeven (North Dakota), Rob Portman (Ohio), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Bob Corker (Tennessee), Orrin Hatch (Utah), and Ron Johnson (Wisconsin).

In March, in addition to the 4 Republican members of the “gang of 8,” my models pegged the following Republicans as “solid yes” votes: Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mark Kirk (Illinois), Dean Heller (NV), and Patrick Toomey (Pennsylvania). All but Patrick Toomey are still predicted as “yes” votes. Moreover, my models also pegged some Republicans who have publicly expressed support for the Senate bill as “lean yes/no” votes (i.e., confidence intervals around their respective predicted probabilities intersect 0.5). These are: Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire), John Hoeven (North Dakota), and Orrin Hatch (Utah) – it would be awesome if I could also claim Bob Corker (Tennessee) on this list, but, alas, no.

While the recent votes on the border trigger amendments add some clarity to the predictions – mostly by reclassifying those as leaning one way or another into solid yes or no votes – there are some Republicans who remain in the “lean yes” category: Susan Collins (Maine), Rob Portman (Ohio), and Ron Johnson (Wisconsin). Note: Jeffrey Chiesa (New Jersey) is also predicted as a “lean yes” vote.

It is interesting to note that some of the most vocal opponents of the Senate bill – including John Cornyn (Texas), Ted Cruz (Texas), and Mike Lee (Utah) – are predicted as “lean no” rather than “solid no” votes in the updated analysis. Of course, I do not think that these are really swing votes. However, they are categorized as such given the large foreign-born populations in their respective states and the increased border security measures in the bill. It will thus be interesting to follow how a “no” vote by these Senators translates with voters during their next elections.

Democrats to Watch

In factoring in the border trigger votes, only 1 Democrat stands out as a potential “lean no” vote: Mark Pryor (Arkansas). Note: there are no Democrats predicted as “solid no” votes. In March, my models characterized Senator Pryor as a “lean yes” vote. However, he recently voted against tabling the Grassley and Cornyn amendments. It is also worth noting that while he is predicted as a “solid yes” vote, Joe Manchin (West Virginia) is another Democrat who voted against tabling the Grassley and Cornyn amendments.


There are 62 Senators predicted as “solid yes” votes, 6 who “lean yes,” 11 who “lean no,” and 21 predicted as “solid no” votes. A full list is available here. Assuming that all who are predicted as “solid yes” or “lean yes” actually vote yes, we have 68 votes for the bill. Assuming that Mark Pryor joins the “yes” votes, this leads to a total of 69 votes for the bill. As the confidence intervals around the predicted probabilities of the “lean no” votes intersect 0.5, after excluding Senators Cornyn, Cruz, and Lee, we can reasonably suspect an upper limit of 76 yes votes, though this would be a real far reach.

In March, the data pointed to 67 to 71 yes votes on CIR. Today, after factoring in the border trigger votes and the increased border security measures, the data point to 69 to 76 yes votes. For those who argue that stricter border security measures are necessary for increasing support for the bill, there is some support for this (moving from an upper limit of 71 to 76). However, for others who argue that stricter border security is unnecessary for securing a filibuster-proof vote, there is also support for this (the needle was already at 67 and moved only to 69).

Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego. He is an expert on immigration politics and policy. He is a research associate at CCIS and beginning in fall 2013 he will be Director of the International Migration Studies Program at UC San Diego.

A Test of the CIR 2013 Blog: The 287(g) Vote

By Tom K. Wong,, @twong002

While we are still far from a vote on final passage of the comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill in the Senate, a vote yesterday in the House provides an early test of the models and predictions of the CIR 2013 Blog.

Yesterday, the House voted on an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriation bill that was introduced by Democratic Representative Jared Polis (CO-2). The amendment was related to the controversial 287(g) program, which promotes local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration officials. Last week, I was asked to help count votes for and against the amendment.


The model predicted up to 185 yes votes on the Polis amendment. The actual votes was 180, which means that the model performed within 97% of the actual vote.

Taking a look at the actual roll call, we see that the model correctly predicted 94% of the actual votes cast – nearly 400 representatives were correctly predicted out of the 425 who voted.

92.3% of those predicted as “solid yes” votes actually voted yes. 92.3% of those predicted as “lean yes” votes actually voted yes. And 99.6% of those predicted as “solid no” votes actually voted no (Michelle Bachman was the lone “solid no” vote who voted yes). The model performed the worst with the “lean no” category. Only 31.5% of those who were predicted as “lean no” votes actually voted no.

Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego. He is an expert on immigration politics and policy. He is a research associate at CCIS and beginning in fall 2013 he will be Director of the International Migration Studies Program at UC San Diego.

Does Legalization Encourage Unauthorized Immigration?

By Hillary Kosnac,, and Tom K. Wong,, @twong002

Chances that 2013 will bring a comprehensive immigration reform bill (CIR) that includes a path to citizenship increased recently after the bipartisan Senate “gang of 8’s” bill was voted out of committee (and largely in tact after some 300 amendments were considered). However, the optimism surrounding the bill was quickly tempered as the House Judiciary Committee (HJC) held a hearing in which the legalization of undocumented immigrants and an eventual path to citizenship were sharply questioned.

These questions renewed debate over whether legalization (or even just talk of legalization) leads to more unauthorized immigration, particularly from Mexico. In response to Republican Representative Louie Gohmert’s (TX-1) claim during the HJC hearing that talk of legalization leads to a “dramatic uptick in people coming across the border illegally,” an expert witness stated, “every time that we talk about some sort of immigration reform, especially when there are still questions out there, there is some kind of increase.” This witness, however, concluded his answer by stating “can’t give you what that increase is, I don’t know.”

Given legalization and a path to citizenship are at the core of immigration reform efforts on the one hand and concerns about the “moral hazard” of legalization – i.e., the fear that legalization now will encourage more unauthorized immigration down the road – generate intense opposition to reform efforts on the other, it is critical to provide better answers than “I don’t know.”

While there has yet to be a silver bullet one way or another, there is a way to empirically evaluate whether (prospective) legalization encourages more unauthorized immigration. Since 2005, the Mexican Migration Field Research Program (MMFRP) housed at the University of California, San Diego has conducted thousands of interviews with prospective migrants in Mexico. During the last push for immigration reform in 2006 and 2007, the MMFRP surveyed nearly 900 persons. Questions participants were asked included whether they had an intent to immigrate to the U.S., if yes, the reason for wanting to immigrate, as well as questions about what they knew about the details of the proposed CIR bill.

One way that we could observe whether a moral hazard related to legalization exists is if respondents who expressed an intent to immigrate cited “amnesty” as their primary motivation. Another way that we could observe moral hazard is if those who knew about the legalization component of the proposed CIR bill were more likely to express an intent to immigrate than those who did not know about the legalization. We take each of these possibilities in turn.

Is “Amnesty” a Motivating Factor?

The 2007 MMFRP included 861 respondents 236 of these were either born in the U.S. or were legal permanent residents. The remaining 625 respondents comprise a pool of prospective undocumented immigrants. Among these 625 people, only 130 or 23.7% stated that they intended to immigrate to the U.S. (419 did not intend to immigrate and 76 did not respond). For those that expressed an intent to immigrate, a follow up question was asked regarding their reasons for wanting to come to the U.S. “Amnesty” was one option among over a dozen potential reasons. Of all of the respondents who expressed an intent to immigrate, zero stated amnesty as one of their primary reasons for wanting to come to the U.S.

It is important to note here that social desirability bias may be at play. This refers to respondents answering survey questions in ways that fit what they think the person asking the questions wants to hear (or in ways that may be viewed favorably by others), instead of in ways that reflect how the respondent truly thinks and feels. We thus take one step further.

Does Knowing About Legalization Promote Unauthorized Immigration?

The MMFRP also allows us to examine what prospective immigrants in Mexico knew about the proposed CIR bill – including legalization. If knowing about legalization leads to an increase in unauthorized immigration, we would expect that a large majority of respondents who knew about the proposed legalization would want to immigrate. The data do not show this. In fact, just 21.1% (16 out of 76) of those who knew about the legalization expressed an intent to immigrate. This means that 78.9% of prospective undocumented immigrants who knew about the proposed legalization had no intention of leaving Mexico.

We can also view this from a slightly different perspective. If talk of legalization is enough to cause an uptick in unauthorized immigration, then there should be an observable statistically significant difference in the intent to immigrate between those who know about legalization and those who do not. Again, the data do not support this. Surprisingly, not only is there no statistically significant difference between these two groups, but those who did not know about the legalization were slightly more likely to express an intent to immigrate than those who did. As indicated above, while 21.1% of those who knew about the proposed legalization wanted to immigrate, 24.1% (114 out of 473) who did not know about it expressed an intent to leave Mexico.

The 2013 MMFRP

Preliminary analysis of the 2013 MMFRP (n = 610) provides a window into the question of moral hazard in the context of the current immigration reform debate. While the 2013 MMFRP also asks the question of intent to immigrate, it does so for only a subset of respondents. As a result, only 75 prospective undocumented immigrants were asked whether they had an intent to immigrate. Moreover, unlike the 2007 MMFRP, the 2013 survey did not ask the follow up question of “why.” However, it did ask, “Do you think there’s going to be an amnesty in the US in the next 4 years.”

Again, if hopes of legalization were enough to encourage more unauthorized immigration, we would expect those who responded yes to the “amnesty” question to want to immigrate more so than those who responded no. The data do not support this. Just 26.7% (12 out of 45) of prospective undocumented immigrants who thought there was going to be “amnesty” in the next 4 years expressed an intent to immigrate, which means that 73.3% had no intention of leaving. There is also no statistically significant difference in the intent to immigrate between those who think there will be “amnesty” and those who do not. While 26.7% of those who think there will be “amnesty” wanted to immigrate, 31.8% (7 out of 22) who did not think so expressed an intent to leave Mexico for the U.S.

Inconclusive, but Better than “I Don’t Know”

To be sure, the analysis here does not provide a definitive answer to the question of moral hazard – however, while the evidence is inconclusive and more analysis is needed, these results provide cause to challenge the assertion that simply talking about legalization prompts a dramatic uptick in unauthorized immigration.

In both 2007 and 2013, the large majority of prospective undocumented immigrants with knowledge or optimism regarding “amnesty” expressed no intent to leave Mexico. Additionally we found no statistically significant difference in the intent to immigrate between those who have knowledge or optimism of “amnesty” and those who do not. While the MMFRP datasets provide a way to empirically examine the question of moral hazard as it relates to legalization, limitations do exist. One limitation is the generalizability of the findings. Each year the MMFRP conducts its research in one of three Mexican sending communities: Tlacuitapa, Jalisco, Tunkás, Yucatán, and San Miguel Tlacotepec, Oaxaca. It would thus be a stretch to say that the surveys are representative of the Mexican population as a whole – and we do not claim that it is. However, given the politically sensitive nature of claims that unauthorized immigration will increase as a result of legalization (or just talk of it), we cannot rely on answers of “I don’t know.” Does legalization encourage more unauthorized immigration? This analysis suggests no, but more research is needed.

Hillary Kosnac is a graduate student at UC San Diego. Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego. He is an expert on immigration politics and policy. He is a research associate at CCIS and beginning in fall 2013 he will be Director of the International Migration Studies Program at UC San Diego.


Interior Immigration Enforcement by the Numbers

By Matt Graham, Bipartisan Policy Center, @matt__graham

Opinions on the extent to which the U.S. enforces immigration laws vary dramatically. Some contend that enforcement is already extremely tough, while others contend that the government fails to enforce immigration law. Rarely are these claims backed by more than one or two statistics.

Based on a long series of Freedom of Information Act requests, the Transactional Record Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) keeps records of immigration enforcement statistics. Their numbers paint a more nuanced picture than either side’s advocates, but leave major holes that available data appear unable to fill.

Removals (Deportations)

The common claim that the Obama Administration deports unauthorized immigrants in record numbers is true. Figure 1 reports the total number of removals each fiscal year between 1980 and 2011. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defines a removal as “the compulsory and confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States based on an order of removal.” These numbers do not include individuals that were “turned back” at the border—only individuals who went through either an administrative or judicial removal process.

Figure 1. Number of alien removals, FY 1980—2011


Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2011.

It is important to note, however, that looking at only the number of deportations can be misleading. The number of new removals ordered in immigration court has dropped each year that President Obama has been in office, as has the number of deportation proceedings.

Figure 2. Number of removals ordered in immigration courts, FY 1998—2013


Source: TRAC. FY 2013 figures include only October through April.

Figure 3. Number of deportation proceedings in immigration courts, FY 1992—2013


Source: TRAC. FY 2013 figures include only October through April.

Like the total number of deportations, court actions do not tell the whole story. This is because not all deportations are a result of immigration court cases. Table 1 suggests that a large and increasing share of deportations occur without ever going to immigration court. TRAC forwards two potential reasons for this, but explains that data are not sufficient to parse between them:

  • Reinstated orders. Already-deported immigrants who re-enter the country illegally do not get a new deportation order, but they are deported again. In May 2012, 34.7 percent of all deportations were reinstated orders.
  • Administrative removals. Not all types of deportation require a hearing. For example, immigrants previously convicted of aggravated felonies may be removed administratively. Removals that never reach court still count as deportations, but do not appear in statistics about immigration courts.
  • Incomplete data. Elsewhere, TRAC has alleged that ICE does not release sufficient data to resolve some perceived data inconsistencies.

Table 1. Immigration court orders versus actual deportations, FY 2010—12

Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 11.33.09 AM

Source: TRAC.

Among those deportation cases that do reach immigration court, the share that end in an allowance to stay in the U.S. has risen dramatically (Figure 4). This rapid increase may be due in part to President Obama’s deferred action program, which allows “DREAMers” to avoid deportation. Additionally, if the government is deporting more immigrants administratively, it could follow that individuals who reach immigration court now tend to have less serious criminal backgrounds. Data presented later (Figure 6) suggest that this is plausible.

Figure 4. Percent of deportation cases ending in allowance to stay in the U.S., FY 1998—2013


Source: TRAC. FY 2013 figures include only October through April.


Money provides another measure of the U.S. government’s commitment to interior enforcement. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the principal DHS office responsible for interior enforcement of U.S. immigration law. Its budget increased rapidly since 2005, but has dropped slightly since the recession began having major budget impacts in FY 2009.

Figure 5. ICE budget, FY 2005—13


Source: TRAC (2005-10), DHS (2011-12), CRS (2013). Note: 2005-10 figures represent total expenditures. 2011-12 represent enacted budget. 2013 represents pre-sequester enacted budget.

Criminal Activity

The extent to which the government deports immigrants accused of crimes (other than entering or remaining in the U.S. without authorization) often rises to prominence in the immigration debate. Since 2008, the share of deportation orders sought in immigration court due to criminal activity has fallen. As explained above, however, many immigrants who have been found guilty of aggravated felonies are deported without ever going to immigration court.

Notably, the data below only represent situations in which ICE cites criminal activity as a basis for deportation. For some immigrants with criminal histories, ICE may choose to cite other reasons in its pursuit of deportation. According to TRAC, ICE has stated that it “cannot reliably identify” the total number of cases in which the immigrant had a criminal history. As with the issue of deportation proceedings above, the available data are not equipped to answer all questions.

Figure 6. Deportation orders sought in immigration court based on alleged criminal activity, Jan. 2008 – Mar. 2012


Source: TRAC. * Preliminary Counts.

A more detailed version of Figure 6 is available here.

Similarly, the number of criminal prosecutions from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and ICE referrals has fallen in recent years. The table below displays the number of criminal prosecutions over the previous 12 months.

Table 2. Trend in criminal prosecutions from referrals to CBP and ICE, Jan. 2009 – Aug. 2012 (previous 12 months)

Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 11.38.49 AM

Source: TRAC.

In ICE detention centers, the majority of immigrants have a criminal conviction. Table 3 displays the top 10 most serious convictions for those with a criminal conviction, and the source table displays the most serious conviction for all those who were in in ICE detention centers as of October 2011.

Table 3. Most serious charge for ICE detainees by frequency, October 2011

Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 11.40.49 AM

Source: TRAC.

Court Backlog

S. 744, the current immigration proposal, mandates the appointment of additional immigration judges. This could help clear the large and growing backlog in immigration courts. This backlog could be part of ICE’s motivation for bypassing immigration courts at a higher rate (presuming, as data suggest, that the agency is actually doing so).

Between 1998 and 2013, the backlog of cases in immigration courts increased by over 150 percent. The increase may be partly attributable to Operation Streamline, which began in began in December 2005 in the Del Rio Border Patrol Sector. The operation requires that “all prosecutable aliens, regardless of nationality, apprehended within the geographic boundaries be prosecuted.” Since that time, Border Patrol has initiated several similar operations across the southwest border, and the number of pending cases has nearly doubled.

Figure 7. Number of pending cases in immigration courts, FY 1998—2013


Source: TRAC. FY 2013 figures as of April 2013.

During the same period, the average processing time for immigration courts increased by nearly 175 percent.

Figure 8. Immigration court processing time for all types of charges


Source: TRAC. FY 2013 figures include only October through April.

An Incomplete Picture

As noted above, deportations and ICE funding have hit record numbers in recent years. On its face, this suggests that immigration enforcement has increased as well. However, court activity around deportations has fallen, and unauthorized immigrants who reach immigration court now stand a much better chance of being allowed to stay in the U.S.

Unfortunately, ICE has not released data that fully explain how these trends fit together. Data suggest that the Obama Administration’s use of immigration courts in deportation proceedings is declining. However, it is unclear how much of this is due to the deportation of previously-deported individuals, to the increased use of administrative proceedings, or to some other factors. In turn, this makes it difficult to determine how heavily ICE emphasizes the deportation of criminals. TRAC, which has endeavored to make these data public for years, has issued strongly-worded rebukes of the quality and quantity of data that ICE maintains and provides.

It is certain that the Obama Administration has deported unauthorized immigrants in record numbers, and that immigration courts have become much more likely to allow immigrants to stay in the U.S. The largest take away, though, may be that the available information makes interior enforcement difficult to assess.

About the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Immigration Task Force. Founded in 2007 by former Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George Mitchell, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) drives principled solutions through rigorous analysis, reasoned negotiation, and respectful dialogue. Like BPC’s other projects, the Immigration Task Force combines politically-balanced policymaking with strong, proactive advocacy and outreach. The Task Force is chaired by former Governors Haley Barbour and Ed Rendell, as well as former Secretaries Henry Cisneros and Condoleezza Rice. For more information, please visit This analysis originally appeared here.

Who Are the Opponents of Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

By Tom K. Wong,, @twong002 

While members of the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) spent yesterday inside the Dirksen Senate Office Building marking up the bipartisan Senate “gang of 8’s” comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill, some Republican members of the House of Representatives gathered outside of the Capital Building to declare their opposition to reform efforts. These Representatives have been described as a “veritable all-star team of anti-‘amnesty’ activists.”

While the House has yet to formally take up debate on immigration reform, the group of 8 Representatives who made their opposition known yesterday – particularly with respect to a pathway to citizenship – provides an opportunity to evaluate the early predictions made related to support and opposition to CIR in the House.

The 8 Representatives who gathered yesterday in opposition to CIR are listed in Figure 1. The figure also plots the predicted probability of each of the representatives. As the figure shows, the representatives are correctly predicted as “solid no” votes. The predicted probabilities range from a low of .07, which means a 7% chance of voting yes on CIR to .24, which means a 24% chance of voting yes. The average predicted probability of voting yes on CIR for these 8 Representatives is .13, or only 13%.


It is no special feat to predict that a Representative such as Steve King (IA-4), who has a long history of anti-immigrant voting and other antics, will vote no on CIR. But what this retrospective shows is that the group that assembled yesterday is not alone.

In looking at all of the Representatives with predicted probabilities of less than .13, the results indicate that there are 101 other Representatives who may join this “all star team of anti-‘amnesty’ activists.” Figure 2 plots the predicted probabilities for all of these Representatives. They are spread across 17 states with the largest concentrations in Texas and Florida. While the predicted probabilities in the figure reflect the assumptions of the statistical models, when viewed from a different perspective we see that there are 31 Representatives who share immigration voting records that mirror the “anti-‘amnesty’ gang” (they are represented by the orange dots).


The road to CIR is a long one. And while the wheels are currently turning in the Senate we know that the road to final passage runs through the House. What remains to be seen is how many Representatives will join together in efforts to block CIR from passage – which makes it all the more interesting to see which Representatives will stand up to counter these efforts.

Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego. He is an expert on immigration politics and policy. He is a research associate at CCIS and beginning in fall 2013 he will be Director of the International Migration Studies Program at UC San Diego.

What the GOP has to Gain – and Lose – ­Among Latinos When it Comes to Immigration Reform

By Matt A. Barreto, Latino Decisions

Recently, there have been a series of high profile endorsements for comprehensive immigration reform from the Republican Party. Immediately after the November 2012 election Bobby Jindal made a plea for more civility and less stupidity on the immigration issue. Before too long, it was the Gang of 8 in the U.S. Senate, which included four prominent Republican Senators who introduced their framework for an immigration bill. Then the RNC released a lengthy report calling for stronger outreach to Latinos, starting by passing an immigration reform bill. And now Tea Party favorite, Senator Rand Paul, has changed his position and is now in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. Can Republicans really draw more Latino support if they back a path to citizenship? The answer is unequivocally “Yes.” Or if they fail to support immigration reform with a path to citizenship, they could do even worse than Mitt Romney’s all-time low among Latino voters in 2012.

Even President Obama acknowledged that the Republican Party can make gains with Latino voters if they support this issue. Republican Scott Rigell from Virginia told the AP: “He said that actually implementing immigration reform would actually benefit Republicans more than it would Democrats. Looking at the data, Mr. Obama is right. In a recent poll of Latino registered voters on the topic of immigration reform, we asked a couple of different versions of the question “will Republican support for immigration reform make you more likely to vote Republican.” Here we focus on the possible gains (or losses) Republicans can make by reporting results just among Latinos who said they had voted for Obama in 2012, or just among Latino Republicans.

In a hypothetical election match-up with a Republican candidate who supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, against a Democrat who opposes citizenship and calls it “amnesty,” we find that 61% of Obama voters would actually choose the pro-immigration Republican.

When asked if they would be more or less likely to vote for a Republican candidate in the future if the Republicans take a leadership role in passing comprehensive immigration reform including a pathway to citizenship, we find that 43% of Obama voters say more likely to vote Republican.

When we explain the current bipartisan efforts in the U.S. Senate with four Republicans working alongside four Democrats, and ask if the Republican commitment to the bipartisan plan makes them more or less likely to vote Republican, we find 26% of Obama voters say they are now more inclined to vote GOP.

Finally, when we ask Latinos to consider all elections they have voted in for local, state and federal office, and ask if they have ever voted for a Republican candidate, we find that 41% of Obama voters say yes, hey have voted Republican at some point.

While there are clear opportunities for the GOP to make gains among Democratically-leaning Latinos, there are also pitfalls if they fail to support immigration reform from within their own ranks.  When asked how important it is that Congress passes an immigration reform bill in 2013, 64% of Latino Republicans said “very” or “extremely” important. When given the argument that immigration reform should wait until later and Congress should focus only on the economy now, 69% of Latino Republicans disagreed and said Congress should focus on both immigration reform and the economy right now. Finally, when asked which immigration policy they would prefer, 66% of Latino Republicans said they wanted an immigration plan with a clear pathway to citizenship, and only 32% of Republicans said citizenship should wait until after the border is deemed secure.

The data are clear that Latino Republicans expect to see movement on an immigration bill, with a path to citizenship in 2013.  But if the bill stalls, or House Republicans block the effort or prevent a path to citizenship, can the Republican party actually do worse among Latinos than Mitt Romney did in 2012?  Yes.

When asked if they approve or disapprove of the job Congressional Republicans are currently doing handling immigration policy, 40% of Latino Romney voters said they disapproved (only 46% approved).

When asked if they perceived Republican Party as doing a good job reaching out to Latinos, or if the Party was ignoring Latinos or even being hostile to Latinos, 41% of self-described Republicans said the GOP was “ignoring or being hostile” to Latinos


When asked if they would be more or less likely to vote for Republican candidates, if the GOP blocks immigration reform with a path to citizenship, 33% of Latino Republicans said they would be less likely to support their party.

Finally, when asked if they would be more or less likely to vote for Democratic candidates, if the Democratic party takes a leadership role in passing comprehensive immigration reform, 32% of Latino Republicans said they would be more likely to vote Democrat.

For more analysis from this report, go here. A version of this post previously appeared in the Latino Decisions blog.

Matt A. Barreto is an Associate Professor in political science at the University of Washington, Seattle and the director of the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity and Race (WISER). He is also the director of the annual Washington Poll.

Will Amendments Using Border Triggers To Create More Obstacles to Legalization Pass?

By Tom K. Wong,, @twong002

Conclusion: Should amendments be introduced and voted on by the full Senate e.g., the Cruz and Sessions amendments that make the initial process of becoming legal contingent on border triggers being met (think triggers first, legalization, and then citizenship instead of legalization first, triggers, and then citizenship), they are likely to fail.

Earlier this week members of the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) filed 300 amendments (nearly two-thirds filed by Republicans) to the comprehensive immigration reform bill (S.744) unveiled last month. Today, the SJC will begin debate over these amendments. While we are still a long ways away from the fireworks that are sure to come once the bill is introduced in the full Senate, these amendments provide a preview of what lies ahead. Note: controversial amendments rejected by the SJC are likely to appear again (sometimes in modified forms) once the bill hits the full Senate.

Border security and, specifically, the border triggers that need to be met before legalization can occur, are sure to figure prominently in the debate. Several amendments filed yesterday speak directly to this issue. One can think of the contours of this debate as constituting two main parts. First, what should the border triggers be? Second, where does legalization and a path to citizenship fit in the context of these triggers?

One of the foremost goals of border security – as currently written in the Senate gang of 8’s bill – is an “effectiveness rate” of 90 percent, which roughly translates to mean that 9 out of every 10 illegal entry attempts are detected and deterred at each of the high-risk areas along the Southern border. Based on the amendments that were filed, Senators Cruz (R-TX), Sessions (R-AL), Cornyn (R-TX), and Grassley (R-IA) clearly think that the border triggers need to be stricter. Whereas amendment 1 filed by Senator Grassley makes the simplest point that “effective control” should be required across all parts of the border and not just the high-risk sectors, the other amendments push further by invoking the language of “operational control.”

Operational Control

Amendment 1 filed by Senator Cruz states that the border triggers in the bill should include operational control of “100 percent of the international border between the United States and Mexico” (as well as a tripling of Border Patrol agents and a quadrupling of equipment and technologies). Amendment 11 filed by Senator Sessions similarly seeks to shift the language of border security to operational control. In both cases, the amendments refer to the definition of operational control given in the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Not just a matter of semantics, this seemingly benign shift in language has tremendous implications.

Defining Operational Control

Section 2(b) of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 defines operational control as the “prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States.” The prevention of all unlawful entries across land borders that span nearly 2,000 miles in the south and over 5,000 miles in the north is something that many acknowledge is an unrealistic standard. Even U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) does not use the language of operational control in its own performance and accountability reports. Nevertheless, both the Cruz and Sessions amendments adopt the language of operational control, which sends a clear signal that, for them, the effectiveness rate defined in the gang of 8’s bill is not enough.

Blending Operational and Effective Control… Then Adding Situational Awareness

Amendment 1 filed by Senator Cornyn takes the gang of 8’s concept of effective control and weaves it into a new definition of operational control. Specifically, the Cornyn amendment defines operational control to mean that “within each and every sector of the Southern border, a condition exists in which there is an effectiveness rate, informed by situational awareness, of not lower than 90 percent.” Here, the amendment adds the concept of “situational awareness” to the debate. The amendment defines situational awareness as “the capability to conduct continuous, manned or unmanned, monitoring, sensing, or surveillance of each and every one-mile segment of the Southern border or its immediate vicinity.” To say that situational awareness means 24/7 surveillance of the entire border is no caricature. In fact, the amendment goes on to specify the use of funding to “operate unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles along the Southern border for 24 hours per day and 7 days per week.” Altogether, the Cornyn amendment defines the primary border security goal of the bill as operational control and situational awareness of the entire Southern border (and further specifies that this should be accomplished within a 5-year period).

Operational Control Before Legalization

The gang of 8’s bill lays out a process wherein undocumented immigrants can become legal via registered provisional immigrant (PRI) status, but can only take the steps towards becoming a citizen after certain border triggers are met. Think legal status, triggers, and then citizenship. However, some of the amendments discussed here would change this. Think triggers, legal status, and then citizenship. In other words, these amendments would keep undocumented immigrants undocumented until the border triggers are met. Amendment 4 filed by Senator Grassley states that individuals can only be granted PRI status after effective control of the Southern border has been maintained for 6 months. The Cruz amendment states that its border security requirements must be met “before the Secretary of the Homeland Security may process applications for registered provisional immigrant status.” And lastly, the Sessions amendment states that operational control “triggers the initiation of processing for provisional immigrant status.” To his credit, the Cornyn amendment allows PRI status to come before the triggers are met.

Are These Amendments Likely To Pass?

Altogether, these amendments have the potential to fundamentally alter the immigration reform bill as we currently know it. As Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has stated repeatedly for days now, the gang of 8’s bill may need tighter border security measures in order to convince those on the fence – particularly looking forward to the House – to support it. But more to the point for our purposes here, the key question is whether any of these amendments, even if they fail in committee, have a chance to pass when the full Senate takes up debate?

This analysis looks specifically at the likelihood that an amendment that seeks to make legalization contingent on border triggers – for example, the Grassley, Cruz, and Sessions amendments – will pass. While each of these amendments are distinct, one common thread is that each specifies a set of border security measures and then makes legalization contingent upon them.

The Isakson Amendment

In 2006, there was an amendment that was introduced and voted on that did this exact same thing. The Isakson amendment (no. 3961) introduced a “border security certification” section to the immigration reform bill. The amendment stated that until the border security measures identified in the bill have been completed and were fully operational, “The Secretary may not implement any program […] which grants legal status to any individual, or adjusts the current status of any individual, who enters or entered the United States in violation of Federal law.” This amendment was ultimately defeated (40 yays and 55 nays). However, the vote was not neatly predictable based on party lines, as some Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the amendment while some Republicans joined Democrats in voting against it.

In analyzing the vote on the Isakson amendment, we can gain some sense of whether there are enough votes in the Senate to change the current link between border security and legalization from legal status, triggers, and then citizenship to the more pernicious triggers, legal status, and then citizenship. I note here that while this analysis provides insight to the border trigger aspect of the debate, it does not tell us about the other border security amendments that were introduced (e.g., 5,000 more CBP agents). This is planned for a separate analysis.


Just like in 2006, should an amendment be introduced that makes the initial process of becoming legal (not citizenship) contingent on border triggers being met, it is likely to fail. The results indicate 46 yay votes and 54 nay votes (assuming that all Senators vote). The yay votes are broken down into only 15 “solid yes” votes with 31 “lean yes” votes. The nay votes are broken down into 39 “solid no” votes and 15 “lean no” votes. The yay votes include 5 Democrats and the nay votes include 4 Republicans. A full list can be found here.

To be sure, the Isakson amendment is most analogous to the Cruz and Sessions amendments, as they attach tighter border measures to legalization. Given the Cornyn amendment tightens the border security triggers, but maintains the logic of legal status, triggers, and then citizenship, it is likely to garner more support should the full Senate vote on it. It should also be said that, as Senator Grassley proposed two separate amendments on this issue – one dealing with what the triggers should be and the other dealing with how legalization and a path to citizenship fits in the context of the triggers – it may very well be the case that one passes (requiring effective control across the entire border) while the other does not (makes legalization contingent on 6 months of effective control).


Step 1 of this analysis models the vote on the Isakson amendment to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006. Here, I estimate multiple models to identify the best model fit. I then construct categories of likelihood, wherein each predicted probability is characterized as a “solid yes” vote, “leans yes,” “leans no,” and “solid no” vote. These categories take into account the confidence intervals around each predicted probability. Figure 1 provides a graphical illustration.

Figure 1. Predicted probabilities and 95% confidence interval for all 100 Senators

Step 2 critically evaluates the predicted probabilities obtained in step 1 by analyzing the actual voting record on the Isakson amendment for each current Senator who casted a vote. In all, 35 out of 42 Senators were correctly classified, which represents a match rate of 83.3%.

Step 3 checks the analysis in step 1 against the full history of voting on immigration-related bills in the Senate from 2006 to present as an additional check. The determinants of past votes on immigration policy are analyzed using a logistic regression model: Pr (Voteit = 1|Xit) = P (β0 + β1Xit + εit) where Xit represents a vector of explanatory variables, including key demographics characteristics, and εit represents the error term. In the Senate, there are nearly 6,000 observations to analyze. Predicted probabilities are then obtained from m = 1,000 simulations for each current member of the Senate using the estimated models.

Step 4 synthesizes all of the data – actual voting records and predicted probabilities – and assigns each Senator to one of the four categories of likelihood described above.

Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego. He is an expert on immigration politics and policy. He is a research associate at CCIS and beginning in fall 2013 he will be Director of the International Migration Studies Program at UC San Diego. Special thanks to Hillary Kosnac, Cat Benson, Brana Vlasic, and Cameron Kaveh for excellent research assistance. 

Are There Enough Votes in the Senate to Include LGBT Families in Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

By Tom K. Wong,, @twong002

Conclusion: Yes, there is enough support for LGBT inclusion in family reunification in the Senate. Will the inclusion of LGBT families as part of comprehensive immigration reform kill the chances of getting a bill passed in the Senate? This analysis suggests, no. However, the House is the sticking point.

As we comb through the 844-page immigration reform bill released late Tuesday night, one omission has already drawn the attention of several immigrant-rights organizations: the absence of language including LGBT couples in the family-based immigration system.

Under current immigration laws, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents can sponsor their spouses for immigration purposes. However, because same-sex partners are not considered spouses they are excluded from family-based immigration. This adversely affects over 36,000 families, 46% of which are estimated to be raising children.

Over the past decade, legislation has been introduced and reintroduced – e.g., Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) and Reuniting Families Act (RFA) – in Congress to include “permanent partner” and “permanent partnership” in the language of family reunification (this does not redefine marriage). Whereas these previous efforts have not succeeded, the current debate over comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) provides an occasion to renew this push for greater inclusiveness in U.S. immigration policies. The question that seems to be carrying the day thus far, however, is whether infusing the contentious immigration debate with an equally if not more contentious issue could potentially kill the chances of getting immigration reform. This analysis examines this question.

Will the inclusion of LGBT families as part of comprehensive immigration reform kill the chances of getting a bill passed in the Senate? This analysis suggests, no.

While there are no precedent votes on either the UAFA or the RFA, the legislative history of these bills provides important information from which it is possible to glean information about potential support among legislators. Specifically, these bills have garnered dozens of sponsors and co-sponsors over the past decade, most of who are still in Congress. The 2012 debate over the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) also saw the introduction of an amendment (the Hutchison amendment) that would have removed key provisions prohibiting discrimination against the victims of domestic violence on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The vote on this amendment, coupled with the broader immigration-related aspects of VAWA, combine to provide insight about how legislators are likely to vote when the issues of immigration and LGBT rights intersect. Congressional scorecards on LGBT rights from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) add an additional layer of important information to consider.

Identifying Support and Opposition to LGBT Inclusion

All Senators who have sponsored/co-sponsored the UAFA or are ranked at the top of the HRC scorecard are classified as being “solid yes” votes should it come up as an amendment to CIR. Senators who have not sponsored/co-sponsored the UAFA, but who voted against the Hutchison amendment and ranked well above the average Senator in the HRC scorecard are also classified as “solid yes” votes. A “lean yes” classification is constructed for Senators whose records are less clear. Senators who voted against the Hutchison amendment, but are ranked around the middle of the HRC scorecard, are classified as “lean yes.” Senators who do not have a legislative track record and and do not have a Congressional scorecard ranking (e.g., new Senators that did not previously serve in the House), but have otherwise indicated support for LGBT rights (e.g., marriage equality, repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” etc.) are also classified as “lean yes.”

All Senators who have not sponsored/co-sponsored the UAFA, who voted for the Hutchison amendment, and are ranked at or near the bottom in the HRC scorecard, are classified as “solid no” votes. Senators who do not have a legislative track record and do not have a Congressional scorecard ranking, but have otherwise indicated opposition to LGBT rights, are classified as “lean no.”

Unlike the other analyses in this series, I do not use a statistical model here. A statistical model in the absence of theoretically informed priors relating specifically to the intersection between immigration and LGBT rights (indeed, a fruitful avenue for future research) is akin to data mining in the dark. With this in mind, the classification of Senators into the categories described above, particularly with respect to the “lean yes” or “lean no” categories, should be viewed as a heuristic and be combined with the on the ground realities and developments that unfold in real time (e.g., Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio recently announcing his support for marriage equality).

Senate Prediction

Not only does it appear that LGBT inclusion in family reunification would pass as an amendment to CIR, but a filibuster-proof vote on final passage of CIR also seems to still be within reach. Full list here.

  • There are 62 Senators who are likely to support LGBT inclusion and 38 who are likely to oppose.
  • Supporting LGBT inclusion: there are 50 Senators who are “solid yes” votes and 12 more who “lean yes.”
  • Opposition to LGBT inclusion: there are 35 Senators who are “solid no” votes and 3 more who “lean no.”

Will LGBT Inclusion Kill CIR?

Combining the above predictions with the general analysis of support and opposition to CIR (see previous analysis) allows us to evaluate whether the inclusion of LGBT families as part of comprehensive immigration reform will kill the chances of getting a bill passed in the Senate.

59 Senators who are likely to support LGBT inclusion are also likely to support passage of CIR. If we assume that those who would have supported CIR actually vote no because of LGBT inclusion, then 59 votes is 1 vote shy of a filibuster-proof vote. This may be alarm enough for some to delink immigration reform with LGBT rights. However, there are additional points to consider. First, these 59 Senators do not include 3 members of the Senate “gang of 8.” While Jeff Flake (0 HRC score while in the House), John McCain (15 HRC score), and Lindsey Graham (15 HRC score) are not expected to support LGBT inclusion, if the UAFA or something like it is approved as an amendment to CIR, it is unlikely that these 3 Senators will vote no when it comes to passage of the overall bill. That is, assuming that they are not willing to “cut off their nose to spite their face.” Moreover, in looking at the 62 Senators who are likely support LGBT inclusion, there are 3 who were previously predicted to oppose CIR. One of these is Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Events in real time have already witnessed Senator Paul come out (however tepid) in support of immigration reform. Adding Senator Paul to the 3 members of the “gang of 8” pushes support back above 60.

To be clear, this is playing with political fire, especially given the highly charged nature of these issues and the necessity of a filibuster-proof vote to get to final passage of CIR. This path should thus be tread carefully. Based on the above assessment, the inclusion of LGBT families in immigration reform means an estimate of about 63 votes, which is down from an estimate of 67 votes on a bill that does not include LGBT inclusion. But while this may mean less overall support, it does not necessarily kill the chances of CIR in 2013.

The sticking point, however, is the House, which will be the subject of a later post.

Research support provided by the Asian Pacifican American Legal Center (APALC). Thanks to Cat Benson and Brana Vlasic for their excellent research assistance.