National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Congress Returns from Recess

April 14, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Congress is returning this week from a two-week break.  There is still no comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate, where we expect action to take place first.  It is still true that Senators Schumer and Graham are taking the lead on forging an agreement that can serve as a legislative starting point.  Before the break, the two Senators published an op-ed in the Washington Post laying out a "framework"—or as much of a framework as would fit in a 750-word op-ed.

If the Senators follow through with the work that has begun, we expect they will introduce a bill that will have at its core a legalization program for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in this country.  What is wrapped around that core is the subject of the negotiations now taking place.  Whatever emerges, though, will contain a mix of enforcement and progressive policy changes that the Senators believe will allow them to gain the support of 60 Republican and Democratic Senators.  That necessarily means the bill will contain elements that would not be included if we were trying to pass a bill in a body consisting entirely of immigration reform advocates.

No matter what is in the bill, getting the requisite number of votes will be very challenging.  There are a number of Republican Senators who want to delay things as much as possible (on any issue), and Senator Kyl (AZ), the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, has already said that, "Republicans will use the opportunity [of an immigration reform bill] to filibuster."

That's looking ahead, though. Right now, we don't even have a bill to filibuster.  Reform Immigration FOR America has been ratcheting up the pressure for the introduction of a bill.  There were a series of rallies for immigration reform on April 10.  In Las Vegas, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid addressed a rally organized in that town.  He told the crowd, “We are going to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  We need to do this this year."  At another rally in Chicago, Senator Richard Durbin, the second-in-line in the Senate Democratic leadership, told a crowd of more than 1,000 persons, "We must pass immigration reform. We must pass it this year.”  There will be more events in more cities around the country on May 1.

The "Conventional Wisdom" is Evolving: Up to now in the press, the predominant narrative in the mainstream press regarding immigration reform has been that Democrats won't want to tackle another difficult issue before the November elections.  The assumption is that immigration reform might stir opponents to come to the polls. 

There is, of course, more to an election than avoiding negative votes.  You have to get voters to come to the polls and vote FOR you.  Reform advocates have argued for some time that if the Democrats fail to take up immigration reform, it will be hard to motivate Latinos to turn out in November.  In the last election, with Barack Obama promising to make immigration reform a priority, Latinos heavily favored Democrats and helped Democrats win swing states. 

The argument that Democrats need the Latino vote, and therefore must tackle reform, is beginning to gain traction in the mainstream media.  There have been many stories appearing in recent days highlighting the disillusionment of Latinos as the promise of immigration reform remains unfulfilled. Political observers are also starting to talk about this.  Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, for example, said that "the cynical take" on Senator Reid's appearance at an immigration rally in Las Vegas (mentioned above) is that "Reid is running for reelection in a state that's about 20 percent Hispanic."  He also notes that if suggesting that Democrats will push for reform is the "cynical" view, then "that suggests an important change in the political reality," and makes it more likely that immigration reform will be on the agenda.

So, the two schools of thought will duke it out in the coming weeks: Take action to deliver on promises to major constituencies and solve problems, or don't tackle difficult problems to avoid upsetting people who aren't going to vote for you anyway. 

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