Advocates of authorizing the millions of illegal immigrants across the country plan to launch an effort this week to make sure their issue does not get lost amid the debates over healthcare reform, climate change, and Wall Street regulations.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who has grown impatient with the lack of congressional action on the issue, plans to introduce legislation, along with 20 other Democrats, this week aimed at legalizing those who entered the United States illegally.
“We have waited patiently for a workable solution to our immigration crisis to be taken up by Congress and our president,” Gutierrez said. “The time for waiting is over. This bill will be presented before Congress recesses for the holidays, so that there is no excuse for inaction in the new year.”
Although the White House has avoided public comment, Politico reported that Obama administration insiders have privately welcomed the plan without commenting on any specifics. Gutierrez’ effort coincides with Barack Obama’s earlier promise to begin debating legalization before the end of this year.
“We welcome any constructive contribution to this important debate,” an unnamed White House official told Politico.
President Obama was not expected to make any public comments marking Gutierrez’s introduction of the bill, but Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke were expected to address immigration reform in speeches Wednesday.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also recently touched on the issue when she gave a speech outlining the administration’s immigration goals.
“The most important thing that can be done is that Cabinet secretaries, whose time sheets are signed by the president, start getting out there and talking about the need for reform,” said Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum. “While the president is appropriately focused on the economy and healthcare, his cabinet leadership is setting the table for immigration reform by doing these kinds of things.”
Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., probably will introduce similar legislation next year, and legalization advocates want the Senate Judiciary Committee to start working on the issue in February.
And a representative of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told Politico that he hopes to begin discussion in the first half of 2010.
James Thurber, director of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, warns getting immigration-reform legislation passed will be difficult due to the amount of items being tacked to the congressional agenda and the related political concerns.
“We have lots of Democratic seats in trouble in the House, and this particular issue doesn’t play very well in some of those Blue Dog districts. I think the leadership will be careful about pushing it and the president will also.”
Even Obama has acknowledged passing immigration reform will prove tricky.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., seized on the immigration issue last week, saying legalizing millions of illegal immigrants at the present time would be inopportune.
“At a time where the unemployment rate is 10 percent, I believe it’s not responsible to invite or allow illegal workers to take jobs that should be available to American citizens and legal workers,” Sessions said.
Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, says this is a false dilemma.
“If you have a situation where you have an unemployed auto worker in Detroit, it’s unlikely that, that worker is going to move across the country to take a job at minimum wage somewhere where an immigrant was fired. It’s not going to happen. That’s not reality,” Medina said.
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