After health-care reform, is immigration reform achievable?
Many say Arizona's stringent new law demands immigration reform from Washington. But Congress may not be ready for another political showdown so soon after health-care reform.
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Complicating matters for advocates of a crackdown on illegal immigration is the opposition they face from powerful interests like the US Chamber of Commerce and labor unions, which believe immigration reform will make for a more orderly employment system and thus be a boon to the US economy.Skip to next paragraph
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Opponents of comprehensive reform, particularly the path to citizenship, see other motivations at work.
"This is an issue with strange dynamics," says Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "You have well-moneyed special interests either on the side of the status quo or large-scale immigration.... Some business groups like hiring illegal labor, because it's docile and exploitable."
"More recently," Mr. Stein adds, "the Democratic Party has become more enchanted with immigration's potential to build an electoral base. The institutional interests of the two parties have hardened in a way that neutralizes positive public discourse."
In the run-up to the 2010 midterms, the importance of the Latino vote is evident.
In a February report, America's Voice identifies 40 battleground House and Senate races where Latino voters will be key. Although immigration is not the No. 1 issue for most Latinos, it is "clearly a defining issue," the report says.
"Like all Americans, the economic crisis continues to be the biggest concern for Latino voters," the report continues. "However, their closeness to the immigrant experience makes immigration reform a threshold issue for many."
So it's not just Reid who is looking to his Latino constituents to save his seat.
But on the flip side, there are members for whom the immigration issue could be toxic, particularly so for conservative Democrats in districts without large immigrant populations. They want nothing to do with immigration reform this year.
And not all Republicans are enamored of the new Arizona law. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has raised objections, as has the state's Republican candidate for the Senate, Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants.
The Arizona law goes into effect 90 days from its April 23 signing, unless a court challenge succeeds in blocking implementation.
The most likely outcome for immigration reform is that the Senate holds off at least until next year, allowing the electoral considerations to recede in prominence.
But one need look no further than the major push for immigration reform in 2007 to wonder if an overhaul will ever be doable.
Then, a Republican president, George W. Bush, led the charge and got 12 Republican senators to join him, but the measure still failed to reach the floor for a vote.
In this latest effort at reform, the only Republican willing to work with the Democrats was Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina. Now he's off that track, incensed that Reid had pushed to move immigration reform before energy legislation – and, some analysts say, to protect his friend John McCain, the Arizona senator who at one time was a major proponent of comprehensive reform but has backed away, given his primary challenge from the right.
"What you have is great disappointment that immigration didn't move in 2007, despite bipartisan support, a Republican president pushing it, and things getting a lot worse out there with laws like in Arizona," says Democratic communications strategist Peter Fenn. "There is impetus to move solid, good federal legislation, especially when states are going to blame the federal government for not acting. But the key is to craft a bill that can actually pass."
•Eloise Quintanilla contributed to this report.