Democrats admit the future looks bleak for immigration reform

One year after an immigration-reform bill passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote, Democratic leaders are making a last-ditch attempt to pressure Republicans into putting the legislation up for a vote. But after a year of cajoling, they are beginning to admit the future looks grim for congressional action.

Democrats gathered Thursday to shame House Republicans for "wasting time suing the president" instead of bringing the bill to the floor, a reference to House Speaker John Boehner's announcement Wednesday that House Republicans will seek to sue the president for failing to enforce the nation's laws.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., touting benefits of the bill including job creation and deficit reduction, put particular pressure on the newly-elected House majority leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to "force a vote on immigration."

"It wouldn't be hard to do," Reid said. He and other senators, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., insist it would pass if lawmakers were allowed vote.

But even after a year of pushing House Republicans for action, at times cajoling and threatening, at other times trying to give them space to work out the issue on their own, even Democrats are admitting the future looks bleak.

"If we don't have some indication in the month of July that there will be a hearing or there will be a bill scheduled for the floor it seems that there's little chance for us to pass such a bill," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said.

Even Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., perhaps the House Democrat who has been the most optimistic about the prospect convincing Republicans to support the bill, seems to have thrown in the towel.

"Nothing's going to happen," he told the Washington Post in an interview. "My point of view is, this is over."

But Gutierrez indicated that all of the pressure at this point, especially from outside groups who are advocating for immigration reform, will be directed at the president.

"There's no reason to continue to wait. Every day, 1,000 people get deported. The president should stop deportations. There's no reason to wait. Wait for what? Every day, they [Republicans] become not recalcitrant but even more energetically opposed to working with us. How many times does someone have to say no until you understand they mean no?" Gutierrez said.

Outside groups have already turned their focus to the president this year, labeling him the "deporter-in-chief" and increasing their calls for him to take unilateral action to stop deportations.

The president has insisted it's beyond executive authority to take such a step, but has shown a little flexibility in re-evaluating the way the U.S. enforces deportation orders. In March, he instructed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to review the deportation program, and Johnson is reportedlyconsidering ways to limit the removal of illegal immigrants who do not have serious criminal records.

The move did not sit well with Republicans, who have blamed the administration's shifting priorities and policies like the Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals - which gives some young people brought to the U.S. as children relief from potential deportation - for the surge of unaccompanied childrenflooding across the southern border into the United States.

And now, Gutierrez said in a speech on the House floor earlier this week, the president will have "no other choice" but to take executive action.

The start of 2014 offered the best chance that House Republicans might consider some immigration legislation when they released a long-awaited set of immigration reform principles in January. But just a week later House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said they would not work on the issue unless the president could be trusted to enforce existing law.

For now, Democrats can hope for little more than a sudden revelation from the GOP that they will need to win over the growing U.S. Hispanic population to win presidential elections in the future.

"They're coming up to a demographic cliff and immigration reform is the only thing that can save them," Schumer said.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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