Immigration reform’s new hurdle

Immigration reform has long been a very difficult piece of legislation to get through Congress.

Critics have repeatedly pointed to the 1986 law, which promised border security but did not deliver it. Twenty-seven years later, a bipartisan group of eight senators has released a bill they claim will both secure the border and create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

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The language follows months of difficult negotiations in which the Gang of Eight sought to address weaknesses that have killed prior immigration bills.

But the group could not have foreseen the need to defend its measure in the wake of the terrorist attack in Boston. Proponents of the legislation, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, say it will make the U.S. safer. Opponents disagree. 

Neither argument is obviously right — and Boston showed that people believe almost any event confirms their previously-held policy opinions — but the bill will falter if the Gang of Eight cannot win the argument about safety.  

Senate Democratic leaders hope to move a bill through the Judiciary Committee next month and pass it in June. Some lawmakers, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), suggest aplying the brakes until the federal investigation into the Boston bombings is complete. 

The path to passage in the Senate and House on immigration reform is highly unusual, and a test of new type of lawmaking. 

For example, the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees are not part of bipartisan groups working on immigration. Usually, the chairman of the committee with jurisdiction plays a major role in crafting the bill that moves through their committee. 

But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) is expected to mark up a bill that is similar if not exactly what the Gang of Eight came up with. 

In the House, Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) will review what the House’s gang delivers. 

Unlike gun control, there is strong bipartisan support for immigration reform. But that was the case in 2006 and 2007 when President George W. Bush pushed for the legislation. 

GOP support eroded and Senate Democrats passed an amendment that was deemed a “poison pill.” The bill died. 

Democrats didn’t touch the issue when they had control of Congress and the White House in 2009 and 2010, sparking criticism from reform backers such as Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.). 

Now, it is a top priority for Obama, but many hurdles, seen and unforeseen, lurk in the months ahead.



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