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Latino role in election to fuel new immigration reform push

Latino voters' crucial support for President Obama and other Democrats makes the immigration issue a high priority. But significant obstacles remain.

November 07, 2012|By Brian Bennett, Hector Becerra and David Lauter, Washington Bureau

That bill, proposed by President Bush, would have created a guest worker program, increased the number of agents patrolling the border and created a path to citizenship for young people brought to the U.S. as children, among other provisions. Conservatives denounced it while labor unions objected that the plan would bring thousands of low-wage guest workers into the United States.

In 2009, Obama White House aides and Cabinet officials spent months hammering out a framework for reform in closed-door talks with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). But Reid's vote counters saw a difficult midterm election on the horizon and couldn't get enough Senate Democrats to get on board; the effort never saw the light of day.

Any new effort to pass immigration bills will face similar head winds. Democratic vote counters say that at least seven senators on their side who represent states with few Latino voters are reluctant to vote on the issue. Several Senate Republicans who have supported reform efforts in the past, including Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, are up for reelection in 2014 and could face primary challenges if they stray too far from party orthodoxy.

The outlook in the Republican-controlled House is even tougher. In an interview with reporters this fall, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), the third-ranking member of the GOP leadership, said a majority could not be put together in the House for any sort of comprehensive immigration package. At best, the House would be able to pass smaller pieces of legislation tackling the less controversial aspects of immigration policy, he said.

Advocates for immigration reform say they plan to work with business groups to try to put pressure on Republicans to shift their position. The business community is "ripe" to jump into the immigration debate, said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), citing support from a wide array of business groups including high tech, the restaurant and hotel industries and agriculture.

"If we create movement in the Senate, I do believe there are Republican members in the Senate who will work with us," he said. "Then that all gets driven and placed in the House's court."

At the same time, Latino leaders made clear they opposed a piecemeal approach.

"We need to fix immigration reform once and for all," said Ben Monterroso, national executive director of Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, a labor-backed group that was deeply involved in registering new Latino voters in swing states.

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