Pelosi predicts passage of immigration reform bill before summer

Pelosi’s timeline is the most ambitious marker laid out by a political leader this year, but echoes other positive remarks from members of both parties in recent days.

While lamenting a “very difficult” political environment on Capitol Hill, Pelosi (D-Calif.), speaking to a Hispanic group in Washington, said immigration stands out as an issue where Democrats and Republicans can work together.

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“The good news is that we really do think that … on the immigration issue, that we will, before summer, have comprehensive immigration reform,” Pelosi told the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in the Capitol.

Both Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday said the bipartisan group negotiating a deal in the House is making good progress.

Members of a separate Senate group have also reported progress, and said they could have a bill completed by the end of March.

Hoyer and Boehner were more cautious than Pelosi, however.

Hoyer, for instance, made a vague reference to “moving something this year.” And Boehner said the negotiators are “essentially in agreement over how to proceed,” but also warned that “this is just the beginning of the process.”

“There's a lot of education that needs to be done because more than half of our members have never dealt with the issue of immigration reform, both on a legal side, you know, and on the illegal side,” Boehner said.

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), one of the negotiators, said Tuesday that no proposal will emerge this week, but he's hopeful the group will release a plan not long after Congress returns from spring recess next month.

“We are under a time pressure to resolve this issue because the moment is politically ripe,” Gutiérrez said Tuesday at a breakfast in Washington sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.

Comprehensive immigration reform has eluded supporters for many years, as various interest groups have jousted over provisions as diverse as border security, worker protections, family unification, gay and lesbian benefits, and human rights.

The most contentious issue has been how to deal with the estimated 11 million immigrants currently living in the country illegally. Most Democrats want to create a pathway to citizenship for those people, while many conservatives say such a move would amount to “amnesty” for those who broke the law. They're pushing for stronger enforcement and mass deportation.

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Hoyer on Tuesday said the bipartisan negotiators – four Republicans and four Democrats – are near agreement on a package that would include eventual citizenship. He declined to offer details.

Speaking Wednesday before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and one of the eight negotiators, credited Pelosi with any success Congress has on comprehensive reform this year.

He said that, as Speaker between 2007 and 2011, Pelosi resisted the temptation to carve out popular immigration provisions that might have passed easily on their own – things like an expansion in the H1B visas that are popular in her district near Silicon Valley, but would have made it much tougher to secure a broader package that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people.

“If you dispose of all the easy issues, you leave the toughest behind, and there will be 10 or 11 million people who will never get to see the light of day,” Becerra said. “She hung tough with us.”

Pelosi on Wednesday credited Latino voters – who came out overwhelmingly for President Obama and the Democrats in the last two presidential elections – for pressuring Republicans to accept some immigration compromise.

“You know the expression, ‘Your vote is your voice?’” she asked. “Well, that vote was a voice for immigration reform.”

Pelosi suggested there's a lingering concern among immigration reformers that some in Congress – she singled out conservatives who are new to Washington – could still sink a deal by insisting that unrealistic border security measures precede any other reforms.

“We just want to make sure that all of those who have joined with us are not setting a standard of securing the border that is almost impossible to achieve,” she said.

She was quick to add that she doesn't think that's the case.

“I think people are acting with courage, and with good faith,” she said. “And that gives us all a reason to be hopeful.”

Pelosi also praised Gutiérrez, Congress's most persistent immigrant rights advocate, quipping that his position on the issue makes him more popular than she is.

“He was in my district this weekend [and] I hope he doesn't decide to run against me, because with his stand on immigration, he's more popular than anybody in our community,” she joked. “They just turn out in droves for him.”