He may be just whistling past the graveyard, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at least appears confident that immigration reform will pass Congress.
“Well, it’s certainly going to pass the Senate. And it would be a bad day for our country and a bad day for the Republican Party if they continue standing in the way of this. So the answer is yes,” Reid said.
Obama choose Reid’s home state of Nevada, with a sizable Hispanic population, as the site for a major speech last Tuesday pushing Congress to pass an immigration bill.
Hispanic voters were crucial in helping Obama beat Republican nominee Mitt Romney – who advocated “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants – in Nevada in November.
“It has to get done,” Reid said of immigration legislation.
“It’s really easy to write principles. To write legislation is much harder. And once we write the legislation, then you have to get it passed. But I think things are looking really good,” Reid added.
After years on the back burner, immigration reform has suddenly looked possible as Republicans, chastened by the fact that more than 70 percent of Hispanic voters backed Obama in the November election, appear more willing to accept an overhaul.
Obama has pushed for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the United States that is faster than one proposed by a bipartisan group of eight influential senators.
Rather than emphasize border security first, Obama would let illegal immigrants get on a path to citizenship if they undergo national security and criminal background checks, pay penalties, learn English and get in line behind those foreigners seeking to immigrate legally.
The bipartisan Senate plan envisions taking steps to toughen security along the U.S.-Mexican border before setting in motion the steps illegal immigrants must take to gain legal status.
Reid assumes that a “path to citizenship” will make it through the Senate. It is by no means certain that immigration supporters from both parties will be able to agree on what that means as a practical matter. It is also unlikely that the GOP controlled House would go for the plan.
Other issues regarding guest workers, and a modified DREAM Act, may achieve some kind of bi-partisan consensus. But unless border security is placed front and center, with strict guarantees, it isn’t likely the House will take up the legislation. And President Obama never even mentioned border security in his Nevada speech.
A bi-partisan group of House members are struggling to come up with something that will pass. But the two sides are still far apart and will probably be made moreso once some flesh is put on the bones of the immigration deal outline reached in the Senate.