Immigration timing

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said last week that he wants to pass immigration reform in the 111th Congress.

It will be a difficult lift, but not impossible. Democrats are aware that passing a comprehensive immigration bill will be easier if they deal with it this year rather than next.

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During the 109th Congress, Republicans tried to pass two very different types of immigration legislation. Their timing could not have been worse.

The House in December 2005 passed an enforcement-heavy bill that attracted a lot of criticism from Hispanic groups. The GOP-led Senate in 2006 passed a version more to the liking of President Bush. That bill, however, was lambasted by the right as an “amnesty” measure.

To no one’s surprise, the House and Senate never reconciled their widely different approaches.

Yet throughout the election year of 2006, Republicans bickered with one another on immigration as Democrats sat back and enjoyed the fight.

Now Democrats control Washington and say they have learned from the Republicans’ awful timing.

Reid said last week, “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.

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

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Reid’s close confidant who is leading the immigration reform effort, said it might be tougher to pass a bill next year. He added that he has “talked to the White House on a bunch of occasions.”

Many Democrats say that President Obama will need to be heavily involved.

“That would take significant floor time,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a member of the Judiciary Committee. “It’s a time-consuming issue and it’s controversial.

“It depends on how much energy the president puts into [it],” said Cardin. “There is no question in my mind that this will take the president’s personal involvement.”

The House is letting the Senate go first on immigration, though Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), an ardent backer of comprehensive reform, has been relentless in keeping pressure on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as well as the president.

Gutierrez and other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will certainly not sit by if immigration reform slips on the congressional calendar.

Politically speaking, it would be wise for Democrats to deal with immigration now instead of later.

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