Immigration reform bill introduced, but can it survive election year politics?

Almost lost in all the ink expended over the health care reform fracas on Capitol Hill was last week’s introduction of a long-delayed immigration reform bill by House Democrats.  That should please a number of Jewish groups that have made such legislation a priority.

The big question: is there any chance anything Jewish groups are likely to support can pass a bitterly divided, hyper-partisan Congress – and in an election year,  to boot, which means the specter of illegal immigrants taking American jobs, spreading disease and probably causing global warming will be trotted out by talk show screamers, bloggers and the pols who ride their coattails?

 The “Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity” act was introduced by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Il.) and quickly garnered more than 80 cosponsors.  It includes provisions for beefing up border security, changing the immigration system to support family reunification and changing employment verification procedures.

It also includes an “earned legalization program" for some here illegally – which will satisfy Jewish groups that have long argued for a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, but also serve as a convenient target for opponents, who are already claiming it amounts to “amnesty” for those nasty illegals.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is  working on legislation that includes some of the same components.

The first Jewish group out with a statement on the bill was the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).

“We applaud Representative Gutierrez for his immigration bill, which helps move the immigration debate to center stage,” says Gideon Aronoff, the group’s CEO. “This legislation reflects the principles that have been promoted by HIAS, including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S., family reunification, worker protections, effective enforcement, and protection of due process.”

What’s not clear: will the Democratic leadership, looking at likely losses in this year’s midterm elections, make passage a priority? Will the Obama administration, facing other nasty fights in a rigidly divided Congress, push hard for passage?

And how will Republicans use the issue in the upcoming campaigns? That much, at least, is pretty predictable.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.