US President Barack Obama’s re-election this month gave supporters of comprehensive immigration reform a dose of optimism.
They hoped that Obama, bolstered by the 70 percent-plus support he received from Hispanic voters, might now feel ready to champion the cause he largely avoided during his first term.
They thought that Republicans, after the thumping they got at the hands of Latinos in the Nov. 6 election, might soften their resistance to reform in order to stay competitive.
However, as advocates mobilize for what is likely to be a two-year drive to get an immigration law enacted, their optimism may be tested by a dose of reality.
No matter how sympathetic Obama may be, he will be preoccupied with fiscal battles well into next year and less likely to engage in the kind of salesmanship analysts believe is key to sell broad immigration policy changes to the public.
As a group, Republicans in US Congress, may not be eager to reverse long-held and deeply felt positions on immigration in an era when so many are vulnerable to primary election challenges from the right. Plus, they may be just as consumed by fiscal issues as the rest of Washington.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner said the so-called “fiscal cliff” — the tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect in January — will suck up Washington’s energy early next year, even as his party wants to use the new US Congress to tackle big issues like immigration, climate change and job creation.
Immigration reform, which has failed repeatedly in Congress over the past decade, aims to accomplish several goals — none of them easy.
For Democrats and their labor union supporters, the 11 million undocumented foreigners, many having spent years in the US, should be allowed to come out of the shadows and given a path to citizenship while working in the US legally.
Many Republicans say that this approach would reward those who broke the law by jumping in front of those waiting to emigrate legally.
The 11 million includes the children of illegal immigrants.
Obama, impatient with Congress’ inaction and with an eye on re-election, last June moved on his own to allow some to avoid deportation for two years and obtain work permits.
For Republicans, stronger enforcement measures are necessary to keep more illegals from entering the US through states bordering Mexico, especially if an improving US economy begins creating more jobs. Democrats argue that tough controls are already in place.
Both sides want to more efficiently verify legal workers in the US, while the business community wants better access to low-paid farm workers and well-paid high-tech workers on a temporary basis.
“At a minimum, they’ll want to have a bill [introduced] by early spring, around April,” said Andrea Zuniga DiBitetto, who follows Congress for the AFL-CIO, the confederation of US labor unions.
Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat and a close ally of Obama, said he aims to get such a bill onto the Senate floor for votes next year. US Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy in an interview said his panel would move early to write the measure.
It was Obama’s re-election that emboldened his fellow Democrats in Congress to move swiftly with immigration legislation next year. It has also led some Republicans to conclude that they have to start responding to the concerns of the US’ fastest-growing demographic group.