Obama leads new bid for Latino votes

Democrats on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue are poised to launch an eleventh-hour effort to pass an immigration reform bill this year.

While it’s unlikely the measure will attract the necessary 60 votes in the Senate, having the debate could help Democrats fire up their deflated base with the elections fewer than 50 days away.

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Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Reps. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) are scheduled to meet with President Obama at the White House on Thursday afternoon to discuss the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

The three lawmakers have been key proponents of immigration reform. Velázquez is chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Gutierrez is chairman of the CHC’s Immigration Task Force. Menendez, the only Hispanic member of the Senate, heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

With comprehensive immigration reform dead in this Congress, the DREAM Act is seen as an incremental step toward overhauling the nation’s immigration laws. Some Democrats privately admit an ambitious immigration reform effort could be put on hold for years, especially if Republicans are running the House in 2011.

Many in the GOP believe this issue will help them get conservatives to the polls. Republican senators in recent weeks have discussed the possibility of changing the 14th Amendment, which gives the children of illegal immigrants born in the U.S. a right to citizenship.

In an interview with The Hill earlier this year, Gutierrez said he would urge Latino voters to stay home this November if the Democratic Party does not make a concerted effort to pass immigration reform.

Gutierrez, however, is on board with a scaled-back strategy on immigration reform, and expressed optimism the DREAM Act would pass the Senate next week, though he acknowledged a big push from the White House is needed.

He said Wednesday, “We will not give up until we have an immigration system that works for the American people, for immigrants, for employers, for families and for the rule of law.”

Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) support the DREAM Act, as does Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who put it on the upper chamber’s schedule next week. Pelosi has signaled the House will not act on immigration unless the Senate moves first.

Gutierrez said that he and Velázquez are looking to set up a meeting with Pelosi to discuss the DREAM Act.

Campaign analysts say Reid’s move to pass the DREAM Act will help his challenging reelection bid.


Gutierrez, who is considering running for mayor of Chicago next year, said Wednesday that he is planning on campaigning for Reid in Nevada in mid-October.

The DREAM Act, introduced by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), has previously been rejected by the upper chamber. In 2007, the bill fell eight votes short in a cloture vote, 52-44.

While some Republicans supported that motion, eight Democrats voted no, including the late Sen. Robert Byrd (W.Va.) and Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Byron Dorgan (N.D.).

The bill has attracted the support of most Senate Democrats, but it has only one GOP sponsor: Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.).

Because the DREAM Act will be an amendment to the defense authorization bill, it will be a straight up-or-down vote and Republicans will not be allowed to offer a competing immigration measure, Gutierrez said. He added that 60 votes will be necessary for it to pass.

Immigration reform advocates have praised Reid for his decision to hold a vote next week.

Amy Novick, executive director of Immigrants’ List, a bipartisan immigration reform political action committee, said, “This is significant, encouraging news, and a step in the right direction toward fixing our broken immigration system … The DREAM Act will help deserving young people realize their full potential as contributing participants in American society. Sen. Reid’s leadership on this issue, given the fear and paranoia that the anti-reform movement has fomented, is to be commended.”

America’s Voice, another group in favor of immigration reform, pointed out that in the 108th Congress, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 16-3 in favor of the DREAM Act. The group noted that Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and John Cornyn (Texas) voted yes at that time.

In related news, the House on Wednesday passed a bipartisan bill that would allow lawmakers to swear in new U.S. citizens.

The measure, introduced by Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act and give members of Congress, delegates and resident commissioners the power to administer the American oath of allegiance to people who have passed through the naturalization process.

The legislation would not alter any of the details surrounding naturalization requirements as outlined and enforced by U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. Currently, the attorney general and designated immigration judges are the only authorities allowed to administer the oath to incoming U.S. citizens.

Serrano said the measure would strengthen the bond that new citizens have with the American government by personalizing their relationship with their member of Congress.

The bill would prevent lawmakers from giving the oath of allegiance in a naturalization ceremony if it falls within 90 days of an election; nor could lawmakers choose the time or place of the ceremony.