Dim and Dimmer Chances of an Immigration Reform Bill

By Seth Freed Wessler Apr 27, 2010

Washington’s game of immigration-reform dodgeball got particularly intense this week after Arizona passed its racial police state bill. Many looked east to DC, hoping that the Grand Canyon State’s new law would push lawmakers to move on immigration reform. But the chances of reform this session are looking slim as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle duck and run. Although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he’ll unfurl an immigration bill this session, many doubt his sincerity, especially after waffling on the issue several weeks ago. Indeed, Newsweek reports that Democratic leadership in the Senate say “there is no way they will move to an immigration bill before July—and it’s unlikely even then.” And House sources say a bill won’t move there until the Senate passes one. After Democrats floated the idea that they’d prioritize immigration reform over a climate bill, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been the key Republican supporter of both efforts, said he’d pull his support for both, calling the anouncement a “cynical political ploy” aimed at helping Majority Leader Harry Reid secure Latino votes in the Nevada midterm. And since Obama previously told Graham to find a second GOP immigration sponsor before a bill could move forward, losing Graham, the first sponsor, would be a pretty big deal. Graham’s temper tantrum makes some sense since the climate bill may stand a better chance of passing than an immigration bill, and fast-tracking immigration could endanger the climate bill. Graham is also under intense pressure from other Republicans to step away from immigration. Some say he’s trying to avoid the issue in an attempt to protect Senator John McCain, once a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, as the Arizona Senator gears up for his own contested midterm fight. With at least two Senate Democrats—Ben Nelson of Nebraska (our lovely friend from the health care fight) and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas— saying they’d like to see immigration wait until after the midterm elections, and former GOP comprehensive immigration reformers like McCain terrified that support for a bill will be political death, potential backers of are drying up. With everyone afraid to touch immigration and a gaggle of other major issues on the table, the prospect of getting a reform bill this session are shrinking. Even Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice and arguable the country’s most unwavering advocate for a comprehensive immigration reform bill by whatever means necessary, has said reform is a hard sell right now. "Nobody’s interested in a kamikaze mission,” he said. And since Republicans may take the House in the next election, comprehensive reform in general is looking like it may get kicked while it’s down.