Immigration Reform Headed for Passage

Human Rights

Both the White House and Senate Democratic leadership have reiterated that they expect to pass meaningful immigration reform this year or early next year.

First, the Senate, where good legislation usually goes to die:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said once again Tuesday that he has the votes to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

The only problem is finding floor time — and the political will in the Senate — to dig in on such a heated issue again.

"What is impeding comprehensive immigration reform is any floor time to do it," Reid told reporters. "I think we have the floor votes to do it."

Next, the White House:

My administration is fully behind an effort to achieve comprehensive immigration reform.  I have asked my Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Secretary Janet Napolitano, to lead up a group that is going to be working with a leadership group from both the House and the Senate to start systematically working through these issues from the congressional leaders and those with the relevant jurisdiction.

The timeline:

Obama and members of his administration met with the members of Congress to begin mapping a plan to build support for an immigration reform measure that the president has said he would like to pass "later this year or early next year," according to a senior White House official.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Obama said he was committed to push reform, even though similar efforts failed during the presidency of George W. Bush and sharp differences separate members of Congress when it comes to immigration reform, particularly as the economy continues to struggle.

"It's going to require some heavy lifting," Obama said. "It's going to require a victory of practicality and common sense and good policymaking over short-term politics. That's what I'm committed to doing as president."

Still, the messaging isn't all that harmonious. While Reid claims he has the votes, Rahm Emanuel claims the votes aren't there.

"If the votes were there, you wouldn't need to have the meeting. You could go to a roll call," Emanuel told reporters during an hour-long breakfast.

To which a Reid aide responded:

"The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill by a filibuster-proof margin and with strong bipartisan support in 2006, and we can do it again," spokesman Jim Manley said. "The White House should leave the vote counting to us."

As noted previously, the issue receives dominant popular support.

One version of immigration reform that people have discussed would take a comprehensive approach. It would secure the border, crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, and require illegal immigrants to register for legal immigration status, pay back taxes, and learn English in order to be eligible for U.S. citizenship. Would you ... Congress passing this proposal?

Total Support     86
Strongly support  58
Somewhat support  28

Total Oppose      14
Somewhat oppose    6
Strongly oppose    7

Among Republicans, that level of support is larger than the overall -- 89-11.  It seems they realize that these undocumented immigrants aren't going anywhere, so they like the idea of giving them legal status as long as they're punished for breaking the law and required to make restitution. Seems fair enough.

Republicans, playing to that 11 percent, will fight reform. Not only do they have the Pat Buchanans in their camp suffering from unbridled bigotry, but they have to consider the political ramifications of legalizing 10-15 million undocumented immigrants on their electoral prospects. The GOP's rabid anti-Latino sentiment (now being seen in their handling of the Sotomayor nomination) has been noted by Latinos, and their support for the Republican Party is hemorrhaging as a result. Republicans, already at a deep electoral deficit, can ill afford to dig themselves an even deeper hole in states like Arizona, New Mexico, North Carolina, Colorado, and Nevada.

Yet they're stuck in a no-win situation. Oppose comprehensive immigration reform, and lose even more of the meager support they have left among Latinos. Support it, piss off their nativist base, watch Obama get all the credit, and add net millions of new Democratic voters to the rolls.

The GOP's saving grace would be getting a guest worker program to the legislation, allowing for several hundred thousand indentured servants to be imported into the country on an annual basis. That would still anger their nativist base, but it would greatly please their big-business patrons. Yet the guest worker program angers organized labor for obvious (and justified) reasons. When hearing talk of "unresolved issues", tops among them is this guest worker program. And the big question is whether Reid has the votes without the guest worker program, or whether passage would require that compromise.

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