Where's the '2nd Republican' for immigration reform? Does it matter?

Who will be the second lawmaker on the Republican side of the aisle to help Sen. Lindsey Graham carry forward immigration reform? And is it a prerequisite to moving forward?

Who will be the second man on the Republican side of the aisle to help Sen. Lindsey Graham carry forward immigration reform?

That is the question that has been on many policy minds since Sen. Graham, along with Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat, announced a bipartisan blueprint for immigration reform.

In meetings with immigrant advocacy groups, the White House has repeatedly signaled that it believes additional Republican support (other than Graham’s) is needed for the proposal to gain momentum this year.

Earlier this month on “Meet the Press” Schumer asked Graham to work hard to persuade a second Republican to take a vocal stance in favor of immigration reform.

But so far no other Republicans have done so.

The buzz in Washington, D.C. was that another Republican would have to step forward to nudge along the proposal so that it would eventually have a chance of picking up significant GOP support. That’s how this whole notion of a “2nd Republican” came to dominate immigration policy talk.

But it’s a notion that immigrant advocates in the nation’s capital totally disagree with.

In a conference call with reporters this week, Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, took the notion on quite explicitly.

“I reject the notion we need a second Republican to start … the process,” Noorani said.

He went on to add that he was “confident” that an immigration reform package such as Schumer and Graham’s could pick up anywhere from two to six Republican endorsements once it is further along in the legislative process.

Noorani was echoed by Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association.

“There is no magic to a second Republican,” she said.

Earlier in the week, Jeanne Butterfeld, legislative director for the Reform Immigration for America campaign, also sought to play down the idea that the missing “second Republican” doomed the plan.

Butterfeld, on a call with ethnic media reporters organized by New America Media, said there was a “chicken-and-egg” dynamic at work, but that moderate Republicans like Maine’s Olympia Snowe had to be counted as potential “yes” votes on an eventual immigration package.

Graham and Schumer’s immigration reform proposal includes a path to legalization for many of the nation’s 11 million or more undocumented immigrants. However it also contains aspects that are more problematic for immigrant rights and other activists such as a proposal for a nation worker’s I.D. card to guard the labor market from undocumented immigrant workers.

If immigrant advocates expected Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona to step up and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Graham on immigration, they received a rude awakening. Kyl, despite having been a co-sponsor of the 2007 immigration reform proposal that came close to passing in the Senate, wasn’t having it this time around.

Instead, he threatened to filibuster immigration reform legislation.

America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy group in Washington, D.C. sent out a press release saying that Kyl’s position amounted to a “drop dead” directed at immigration reform.

“What is remarkable is that a senator from a border state where illegal immigration is one of the top issues would proudly proclaim that stopping a bipartisan initiative supported by the president is more important than solving one of his state’s key problems,” said Frank Sharry, who heads America’s Voice.

Backers of immigration reform are essentially betting that once the Graham-Schumer bipartisan plan is fleshed out, introduced, and begins winding its way through committee, it could gain bipartisan support.

But so far, as Kyl’s early positioning shows, it has proven a tough sell during a poor economy and in the midst of the post-health care political rancor in Washington, D.C.

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