Moderate Dems could impede immigration reform
WASHINGTON — Immigration isn't a touchy subject just for many Republicans. Southern and moderate Democrats may be a bit skittish about the idea of granting a path to citizenship for the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants.
A small group of Senate Democrats, because they represent conservative states such as North Carolina and Arkansas, could help derail ambitious plans to overhaul the nation's immigration laws.
Views on illegal immigration are very different in the conservative South, where moderate Democrats have long sought to strike a balance between a range of issues on their party's agenda and the divergent opinions of those who elect them.
President Obama won the presidency in part because of Latino support in the swing states of Colorado and Nevada. But he lost in most of the South, including North Carolina and Arkansas, where the electorate remains uneasy about legalizing millions of illegal immigrants.
His aggressive push for a path to citizenship isn't necessarily going to help Sens. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who might face tough re-election prospects in 2014.
“If they vote for it, Republicans will add it to the litany of things that they supported the president on,” said Jennifer Duffy, an analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Supporters for immigration think they can get enough Democrats to pass the bill, but Israel Ortega, the editor of Libertad.org, the Spanish-language website of the conservative research center the Heritage Foundation, said it would take only a few reluctant Democrats to wreck the bill.
It's happened before.
About two years ago, five Democrats joined Senate Republicans and doomed an effort that would have given hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants a path to legal status if they enrolled in college or joined the military. The Democrats were Hagan, Pryor, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Montana's Jon Tester and Max Baucus, who is up for re-election in 2014.
Had all five voted the other way, the bill, known as the DREAM Act, would have reached the Senate floor and could have passed by a simple majority. The House of Representatives had passed the measure.
Dozens of young advocates crowded the galleries above the Senate floor in December 2010 in support of the bill. Many wore graduation caps and gowns. They held hands as the senators cast their votes.
“It was pure devastation,” said Gaby Pacheco, a 28-year-old Miami-based advocate who was among the students. Pacheco said she and other students would never forget the vote. They plan to keep pressure on Hagan and other Democrats who they fear might oppose a new immigration proposal.
“It's not all just bad Republicans and good Democrats,” she said.
Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska are two other senators up for re-election who are being closely watched on the issue.
A member of the Homeland Security Committee, Begich said last week that he likes the direction of the Senate bipartisan plan, which includes a path to citizenship and actions to make the borders more secure. Before he decides, however, Begich wants more specifics on how the legalization process would work. Hagan said Friday that she thought in 2010, and now, that the DREAM Act needed to be part of a comprehensive package that addressed national security and economic interests. She supports “comprehensive reform” that includes stronger border security, visas for high-tech workers and some kind of agriculture component to help farmers get needed workers. She was noncommittal about whether that would include some form of legalization for the 11 million illegal immigrants now in the United States.
“I oppose amnesty, but a pathway to citizenship can take a lot of different forms,” she said. “It can look like a lot of different things.”
Now is the time for a comprehensive package, Hagan said. She's heard from computer and software companies in North Carolina's Research Triangle Park in the Raleigh-Durham area who want to hire highly qualified foreign-born high-tech workers — often educated in North Carolina schools. She's visited blueberry and sweet potato farms that need labor.
“What I hear from my farmers quite often is that we have got to find a workable solution so they can get the workers they need so they can continue growing crops in North Carolina,” she said.
Pryor acknowledged that immigration was a tough issue for some in his state, but he said a bipartisan Senate team that was collaborating on immigration deserved a chance to do its work.
He supported a comprehensive package in 2006 that would have granted legal status to some illegal immigrants, but he opposed a similar measure in 2007 that included a path to citizenship.
He has introduced bills that would beef up enforcement, including strengthening worker verification. But he said he wanted to see what the bipartisan group drafted before weighing in on whether he would support a path to citizenship.
One of the Democratic leaders of the bipartisan Senate group working on immigration, Charles Schumer of New York, said it was too early to worry about how this bill might affect conservative members of the party in the next election.
“Look, we're trying to come up with a bipartisan bill,” he said. “We'll worry about counting the votes once we have a bill. We still have a ways to go.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Mountaineer workers fear smoking ban will harm ‘livelihood’
- Autistic twin men locked up in Maryland home
- ‘Slenderman’ attack victim receives Purple Heart from anonymous well wisher
- Cyber domain is next battleground, authors of 9/11 report warn
- To fight crime, Chicago tries wiping away arrests
- Immigration courts bracing for influx of youth migrants
- Montana judge censured over rape case comments
- HGH use on the rise in teens, survey finds
- VA nominee to demand ‘urgent action,’ he tells panel
- U.S. intel believes civilian plane might have been mistaken for Ukraine military aircraft
- Defiant Vietnam POW honored