Mixed Signals on Immigration Reform

The push continues for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), but the political forecast remains partly cloudy, with occasional sunshine. Health care reform is now history, although voices on the right insist it’s still not over, and continue to call for repeal of the landmark legislation. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has announced his intention to retire, ensuring yet another time-consuming and acrimonious partisan battle over his replacement – and now, Senator John Kyl, (R-AZ), a member of the Judiciary Committee, announced on ABC’s This Week program that Congressional Republicans are unlikely to support immigration reform any time soon. (See: ABC News, This Week transcript, 11.Apr.2010.)

Senator Kyl told ABC News’ Jake Tapper that “the conditions for immigration reform no longer exist. The consensus that existed before does not exist. And among other reasons, because the administration – this current administration has not done what’s necessary to secure the border and enforce the law.” Kyl said the recent shooting of a rancher in southeastern Arizona – apparently by drug smugglers or illegal immigrants – proves his point, and will make it “very difficult for Congress to support legislation that would be as comprehensive as that I supported three years ago.” (CIR optimists will note that Kyl’s answer did not directly address Jake Tapper’s question, whether the GOP still plans to filibuster CIR legislation if and when it comes to the floor. Perhaps it counts for something that Senator Kyl did not repeat his promise – or was it a prediction? – of a GOP filibuster.)

However, the day before Senator Kyl’s pronouncement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) spoke at an immigration rally in Las Vegas and announced his intention to push for immigration reform when Congress returns from recess this week. Reid, who faces a tough re-election campaign this November, told the crowd, “We’re going to come back, we’re going to have comprehensive immigration reform now,” according to the New York Times. (See From Senate Majority Leader, a Promise to Take Up Immigration Overhaul, by Julia Preston, New York Times, 10.Apr.2010.)

As the Times points out, Senator Reid, and the Democrats in general, will have a delicate balancing act in November. Immigrant groups and labor unions support CIR, but the nation remains mired in economic problems, including high unemployment, making it difficult to sell CIR on Main Street, USA. Many Latino voters – the very group that helped to elect Barack Obama – are disappointed that the President has yet to deliver on his promise to enact CIR legislation in his first year in office. Some of that disappointment is sure to affect Congressional elections in majority-Hispanic districts and closely-contested races elsewhere. The Times also reports that immigrant advocates are increasingly upset with the Obama administration for continuing to arrest and deport illegal immigrants, especially after reports surfaced recently that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was using aggressive enforcement tactics, in part to meet internal quotas for arrests and removals.

Meanwhile, Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), have yet to introduce the much-awaited CIR legislation on which they have been working for several months now. As we reported several weeks ago, any action on CIR will be in the Senate, because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has publicly promised not to subject House Democrats to votes on controversial measures – such as CIR – unless the Senate acts first. Time will tell whether the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, can bring the Schumer-Graham legislation to the light of day. Failing that, it could be a long, barren political season before we see any further progress on CIR. Stay tuned.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.