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Can Dems Do Immigration Reform this Year?

immigration reform

Senate Democrats on Thursday unveiled their framework for comprehensive immigration reform, but their refusal to set a deadline for accomplishing reform and inability to find a single Republican to support the measure suggest reform this year could be out of reach.

Some Democrats think they could benefit politically from addressing immigration reform but the party was primarily motivated to move on the issue in the wake of the controversy over Arizona's new immigration law.

"Failure to act on immigration reform will mean that our broken system and ineffective laws will continue to weaken our national security and hurt our workers and fail short of the most basic standard of justice," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said yesterday, CBS News Capitol Hill Producer John Nolen reports.

The Democrats' outline for a bill, Nolen reports, would require the government to secure the border first before dealing with the status of those who are in the country illegally. It also includes stiff fines for those who hire illegal immigrants and possible jail time for repeat offenders, as well as a proposal to offer a green card to immigrants who get a higher degree in science, technology, engineering or math from an American university. It also includes a proposal for a high-tech ID card.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday it wouldn't be wise for Democrats to set an "arbitrary deadline" for the passage of immigration reform, Nolen reports.

The Senate is sure to have its hands full with finishing up financial reform, confirming a Supreme Court nominee and possibly tackling climate change legislation. The passage of an immigration bill seems all the more unlikely with zero Republicans on board.

"We are offering this framework as an invitation, an invitation for Republican colleagues to work with us to solve this problem that has plagued our country for too long," Reid said yesterday.

Yet Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Jon Kyl (Ariz.), two Republicans who have worked on other immigration reform efforts, said in a statement that the Democrats' plan is "nothing more than an attempt to score political points."

"It poisons the well for those of us who are working toward a more secure border and responsible, bipartisan reform of our immigration laws," they said.

The GOP appears obstinate in its opposition. Ron Brownstein of the Atlantic reports that Graham had worked for months with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to produce an immigration reform bill seemingly more conservative than the 2006 bill that won bipartisan support in the Senate. Yet no other Republican would join Graham in supporting the measure.

"You have to be able to count to 60 around here" to get a bill passed, Reid said yesterday. Yet while that means getting at least one Republican on board, it also means keeping the Democratic caucus unified -- another challenge for immigration legislation. The measure could be difficult for moderate Democrats to support.

President Obama acknowledged this week that there may "not be an appetite" in Congress to get immigration done this year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is also insisting the Senate will have to move first on the issue and that it will take leadership from Mr. Obama. House Republican Leader John Boehner more bluntly said there's "not a chance" immigration reform passes this year.

Still, Schumer insisted to reporters that he believes the Senate can get something done, the New York Times reports.

"If I did not believe we could accomplish immigration reform, I never would have chosen to accept the immigration subcommittee chairmanship," he said. "Committees of inaction and legislative backwaters are not places in which I thrive."

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