Reid vows immigration reform by end of year

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Thursday that he would like the Senate to pass comprehensive immigration reform this year, adding another huge project to Democrats' already packed schedule for 2009.

“As far as I’m concerned, we have three major issues we have to do this year, if at all possible: No. 1 is healthcare; No 2 is energy, global warming; No. 3 is immigration reform,” Reid said.

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“It’s going to happen this session, but I want it this year, if at all possible.”

Reid met Thursday with leaders of Hispanic groups including the National Council of La Raza and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He and those leaders promoted the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court at a press conference.

Reid stressed that he does not want to pass immigration “piecemeal” but, instead, as a comprehensive package.

He said reform must secure the nation’s borders with Mexico and Canada and include “a guest-worker program that is meaningful."

He said the guest-worker program should not be limited to the agriculture industry.

“We need it in the food industry; we need it in the tourism [business],” he said.

Reid also said that immigration reform needs to create a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented workers in the United States.

The leader suggested that if undocumented residents pass a series of requirements, they should be allowed to stay in the country without threat of arrest but must wait for citizenship consideration behind current applicants who have not immigrated illegally.

“I believe that what you need to do is have penalties and fines. I think they have to learn English, stay out of trouble, pay their taxes and then they don’t go to the head of the line, they go to the back of the line," Reid said.

Immigration reform has received little discussion in Democratic leadership circles, as lawmakers have concentrated their focus on healthcare reform, energy reform and global climate change legislation.

A senior Democratic aide said he had not heard of talk of immigration reform being scheduled for later this year.

Some analysts have speculated that the President Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, who would be the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court, would allay the push from Hispanic activists for immigration reform.