Dems face uphill climb on immigration reform

A small cadre of Democrats on Tuesday continued to push Congress to take up a major immigration reform bill even though the issue has all but evaporated from the majority’s agenda.

At an afternoon rally in front of the Capitol, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s immigration task force, said an immigration overhaul is long overdue.

“We simply cannot wait any longer for a bill that keeps our families together, protects our workers and allows a pathway to legalization for those who have earned it,” Gutierrez said.

ADVERTISEMENT
Hopes for action on legislation to create a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants have steadily eroded since President Barack

Obama twice delayed a White House immigration summit and his attention became all but monopolized on healthcare reform.
Gutierrez, who has questioned Obama’s commitment to the issue, on Tuesday said: “It is time we had a workable plan making its way through Congress that recognizes the vast contributions of immigrants to this country and that honors the American Dream.”

At the same time, however, even Gutierrez has yet to introduce a bill.

The Illinois Democrat has been intent on including as many Republican-friendly provisions as he can swallow in order to attract some GOP support, and the plan he outlined on Tuesday includes provisions for enhancing border security and employment verification systems, both of which he said will reduce illegal immigration.

But it remains unclear whether any Republicans will step out to support immigration reform after a 2007 bipartisan effort collapsed under the stress of conservative criticism.

While the issue no longer dominates the conservative airwaves, it remains a political lightning rod for many on the right. The now-infamous “You lie!” outburst of Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) came in response to Obama’s pledge that no illegal immigrants will be covered under the government-funded portion of his healthcare plan.

For the time being, Democrats seem to be the more immovable obstacle.

Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.), the only Hispanic member of the House leadership team, said the urgency for immigration reform hasn’t subsided, but acknowledged that it has been overshadowed by more pressing matters.

“There’s a daily urgency,” Becerra said. “The stories continue to come out about children who are separated from their parents, people dislodged from their workplace that they’ve been in for over a decade … The drumbeat hasn’t diminished one bit.”

He suggested a busy House calendar is part of the problem.

“What we have found,” Becerra continued, “is that we’re encountering calendar issues with some of these big, heavy, but very important policy issues that we’re confronting … It’s just a matter of finding the space on the calendar when you deal with the economy, jobs and healthcare.”

Yet the House schedule in recent weeks has shortened.

House leaders have slashed a number of Mondays off of the upcoming legislative calendar, and have long since abandoned Fridays as days when the House meets to consider legislation.

With the House unable to reach a consensus on its own approach to healthcare reform, and with a number of Democrats wanting to wait even longer for the Senate to finish its bill, leaders have been struggling to find enough reasons to keep members in town for four days at a time.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said immigration reform could come after healthcare, but acknowledged the more likely possibility was for leaders to put it on next year’s agenda.

ADVERTISEMENT
Proponents of comprehensive immigration reform like Schakowsky and Gutierrez had pressed for action in Obama’s first year, knowing that the emergence of an issue like immigration in an election year could make GOP support unattainable and also spell trouble for conservative Democrats.

Forced to scratch their original game plan, immigration reform backers are now hoping that Republicans in states with significant percentages of Latino voters will feel pressure to support, rather than shun, a pathway-to-citizenship bill, and that a reform bill will earn enough GOP support to offset the likely significant defections from Southern Democrats.

“We’ll see how controversial it ends up being,” Schakowsky said. “There are lots of Republicans in districts that, if not now, will soon be relying on citizen immigrants to reelect them.”