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Government shutdown overshadows immigration reform efforts (+video)

Immigration reform advocates rallied around the country this weekend. For now, it looks like bitter Washington partisanship and the government shutdown have stalled any chance of reform.

By Lourdes MedranoCorrespondent / October 6, 2013

Jose Gonzalez of El Paso, Texas, carries the American flag as he leads hundreds of marchers in Las Cruces, N.M. Saturday in a rally for immigration reform.

Shari Vialpando-Hill/The Las Cruces Sun-News/AP

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TUCSON, ARIZONA

With immigration reform eclipsed by the federal government shutdown, advocates hoped to regain momentum with weekend marches and rallies in numerous cities.

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"This marks the beginning of the escalation for the pro-immigrant-rights movement," says Dawn Le, deputy campaign manager for the Alliance for Citizenship in Washington.

Reform supporters want lawmakers locked in a bitter political fight over funding to act on immigration legislation that would legalize an estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally. The  Senate in June approved a bill that also incorporates beefed-up border enforcement but the full House has yet to vote on a measure.

Some experts say it won't be easy for reform advocates to steer the attention of Congress back to immigration.

"There's a loss of energy in all of this," says Josiah Heyman, an anthropologist at the University of Texas at El Paso whose teaching and research focus on immigration.

While Professor Heyman still counts immigration reform as viable, he says the shutdown throws a wrinkle in what already was a volatile debate.

"The circumstances right now mean that there's a great deal of rigidity," he adds. "There's an increasingly isolated, very conservative faction of representatives in the House that's an obstacle."

That the marches and rallies coincide with the shutdown is "terrible timing," says Lisa Magaña, a political scientist at Arizona State University in Tempe. "Everything is being so overshadowed by the government being closed down right now."

The breakdown came after the Republican-controlled House passed a spending bill excluding funding for the Affordable Care Act that the Democratic Senate and President Obama want fully funded.

Some of the same Republicans pushing against the president's signature health care law also oppose granting permanent residency and eventual citizenship to immigrants, adds Professor Magaña, who teaches in ASU's School of Transborder Studies.

"It's the same sort of thinking," she adds. "And my understanding is that they don't have to worry about their constituents because immigration is not a big issue in their district."

An immigration reform bill that House Democrats unveiled Oct. 1 carries little weight, she says. "It's more about trying to show that Democrats are more supportive of immigration reform and Republicans  are not. I think it's just all sort of branding right now."

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