Schumer 'optimistic' on immigration

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told an audience at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast he is “optimistic” Congress will pass an immigration reform bill before the 2012 elections.

Schumer said he is committed to working with Republican lawmakers to reach a bipartisan agreement that would reform the country’s immigration system.

“As head of the Immigration subcommittee who believes passionately in this issue, I remain optimistic that we can pass immigration reform during this Congress,” said Schumer, who leads the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security.

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“I give you my word I will work day and night until we can make our joint vision a reality.”

Schumer was filling in for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who canceled his planned appearance. President Obama was still scheduled to speak to the group later in the morning.  

Despite Schumer’s words, most observers see little chance for passage before the 2012 election of a broad immigration bill that would include a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Republicans who control the House have shown no interest in moving such legislation, and a much more limited bill to provide a path to legal residency for the children of illegal immigrants failed to pass the Senate last year when Democrats enjoyed a broad majority.

Still, the White House and Senate Democrats have been making a lot of noise about immigration reform, partly in anticipation of the 2012 election, when they hope to win the Hispanic vote.

Earlier this week in a speech in El Paso, Texas, Obama called on congressional leaders to step up the debate on the issue.

Schumer said there was no chance of passing a comprehensive Democratic or Republican bill, and that Congress needed to put politics aside. The senior New York senator also criticized people who use fear as a reason to avoid tackling the problems of illegal immigration in the country.

“Unlike those who attempt to fear-monger the issue, I am not at all concerned that people want to come to America,” said Schumer. “I’m more worried about a day when people don’t want to come to America. It’s the American immigrants who remind us on a daily basis that the American Dream is alive and well, within the reach of anyone who is willing to work.

“We can’t pass a Democratic bill or a Republican bill. We have to pass a bipartisan bill to get this done. And no party should seek to take political advantage on this issue that’s vital to America. The tide is turning. Our grassroots efforts are working.”

Schumer called on the several hundred people in the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium audience, who gave him a standing ovation when he concluded, to increase their lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill and in their own communities.  

Schumer said he has seen an increasing number of lawmakers express interest in reshaping the country’s immigration system. For Schumer, the essential elements of an immigration reform measure would include securing the U.S.-Mexico border, ensuring that U.S. employers do not hire illegal immigrants, fixing the legal immigration process and providing people in the country illegally a path to citizenship.