Congress is likely to postpone consideration of an immigration overhaul until the end of the year, if not longer, even as advocates are preparing for an all-out, urgent push this fall to win their longstanding goal of a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants here illegally.
In Washington, the sudden debate over military action in Syria and a looming face-off with President Obama over the budget and the nation’s borrowing limit have shot to the top of the legislative agenda, while Republican angst about losing Hispanic voters in the 2012 presidential campaign has faded.
In the House, where many Republicans view an overhaul bill passed by the Senate as a federal juggernaut that is too kind to immigrant lawbreakers, the legislative summer recess has done little to stoke enthusiasm for immediate action. Senior Republican aides in the House say immigration is at the back of the line, and unlikely to come up for months.
Throughout August, immigration groups organized hundreds of visits to Congressional offices, town hall-style meetings, vigils, marches and rallies, creating a constant buzz in the districts of many House lawmakers, particularly Republicans. On Wednesday, advocates delivered 600,000 petitions to the West Chester, Ohio, offices of Speaker John A. Boehner the old-fashioned way, in dozens of stacks of signed papers. On Sunday, Catholic priests around the country preached for a comprehensive immigration overhaul.
The gulf between the expectations of advocates and the reality they face in Washington is widening every day. As they feel momentum slipping away, their anger is likely to intensify this fall.
And time is not on their side. In June, the Senate passed a bipartisan plan to overhaul border security and grant illegal immigrants a chance to earn citizenship. If the House does not take up the immigration issue until 2014, members will face the prospect of voting on a highly contentious issue in the middle of a Congressional election year.
Republican primaries will begin in the spring, and many lawmakers may be reluctant to overhaul the immigration system just before facing their conservative constituents. If Congress does not complete action early next year, Congressional aides said, the issue could be delayed until after the November elections.
But leaders of groups supporting an immigration overhaul say they do not plan to let up.
The organizations plan a mobilization in early October, with rallies in at least 40 cities on Oct. 5 followed by a march and rally in Washington on Oct. 8. Convinced that a majority exists in the House for the legislation, they will press for Mr. Boehner to allow a vote before the end of the year. Leaders said the Syria debate and the fiscal fight should not become “excuses” to set aside immigration.