Senate Leader Says Immigration Reform Possible This Year
By Maria Pea
The Latin American Herald Tribune (Caracas, Venezuela), June 11, 2009
Washington, DC — The leader of the Democratic Senate majority, Harry Reid, said Wednesday in an interview with Efe that legislation to bring undocumented immigrants 'out of the shadows' can pass the upper house of Congress this year.
Reid is working in the Senate to promote reforms in health care, energy policy and immigration which, in that order, are the three main priorities of President Barack Obama and the Democrats, and he said he is convinced that they will be approved despite Republican objections.
On immigration, he said, 'Its the same as the Republicans are trying to do with health care: maintain the status quo … the 1986 law hasnt work very well, I acknowledge it, and we need to change it.'
The senator from Nevada referred to the 1986 law authorizing amnesty for about three million undocumented immigrants. Detractors of the reform have seized on that law to insist that it does not put the brakes on illegal immigration in the United States, where it is calculated that some 12 million foreigners are living illegally.
Reid said he is convinced that, at least in the Senate, his party has the votes to get immigration reform approved this year.
Though a bill needs only a simple majority to pass, ending a filibuster requires the votes of 60 of the Senates 100 members.
Currently, the Democrats and independents who usually vote with them hold 59 of the seats in the Senate, since a federal court still must rule on who won the Senate race last November in Minnesota, Democrat Al Franken or Republican Norm Coleman.
Thus, the Democrats have one vote less than they need to block any delaying tactic by their political opponents.
Reid tried to play down the skepticism that exists about the reform among some moderate Democrats with an eye toward the midterm legislative elections in 2010.
He added that although the legislation does not have the backing of all Democrats, the bill will overcome the obstacles that stymied the failed 2007 reform.
The majority leader said he has 'no doubt' he could find as many as a dozen Republicans who support the measure to make up for defections in Democratic ranks.
'We cant deport 11 million undocumented people, we cant do it physically and financially, as some would want,' Reid said. 'Immigration is the strength of our country, we bring waves of people to our country who excel in education and the workforce, and thats good.'
'We should bring them out of the shadows so that when someone goes to buy milk for their child theyre not subject to arrest. Lets clean the slate, lets have a new immigration program that protects our northern and southern borders, a program that brings (these) people out of shadows and makes them more productive,' the senator said.
He said people with criminal records would be excluded and that undocumented migrants benefiting from the initiative would have to pay fines, learn English and be up to date in their tax payments.
Those are almost all of the elements that the 2007 reform package had, but it failed due to the lack of consensus between Democrats and Republicans about the very volatile and polarizing issue of immigration.
During the campaign, Obama promised to push for immigration reform during his first term in office.
Next Wednesday, Obama will meet at the White House with Democrat and Republican congressional leaders to seek 'common ground' and find a strategy for achieving the reform.
That meeting had been scheduled for last Monday, but it was postponed because of 'schedule conflicts,' according to the White House, which still has not furnished an advance list of participants.