Senators Look To Put Immigration Back On The Front Burner

Comprehensive immigration reform has about as much chance of passing right now as an asteroid-sized kidney stone, while even more modest measures, like the DREAM Act, are stalled in Congress. Nonetheless, Democrats are doing their best to keep the issue in the national conversation.

Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Pat Leahy (D-VT), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) held a joint press conference on Wednesday to prod lawmakers into negotiating a bipartisan bill, and introduced their own bill to get talks moving. The bill would follow the familiar formula that’s been tried unsuccessfully since President Bush’s own legislative push — an increase in enforcement measures coupled with a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.

They got an unexpected boost on Wednesday from journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who penned a widely read New York Times piece in which he revealed he was an undocumented immigrant who had hid his status for years growing up and building his career in America. He is now an advocate for the DREAM act, which would give a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants who, like Vargas, came to America as children and have either gone to college or served in the military in the states. In another encouraging development, Southern Baptist Convention recently drafted a resolution calling for comprehensive reform.

Menendez, one of the chief proponents of the DREAM Act in the Senate, told TPM that he had yet to read Vargas’ article but that his experience was illustrative of the problems the legislation seeks to address.

“From what I understand of the story, it speaks volumes about how an incredible individual contributing to American society has to live with the fear of [being] an undocumented worker,” he said.

With major legislation unlikely to come anytime soon, Menendez told reporters that he and the rest of the Hispanic Caucus recently urged President Obama in a meeting to help mitigate some of the issues they hoped to eventually solve in Congress using executive orders. One step would be to suspend deportations for illegal immigrants in who would be affected by the DREAM Act’s passage to allow them to complete their college education or military service. Another proposal was suspending deportations for families from Juarez in response to ongoing deadly battles between police and drug gangs.

“If those two administrative elements were given together it would certainly not solve our problem, but it would provide some relief,” he said.

Latino voters are crucial to Obama’s re-election prospects, and the White House has been redoubling its efforts to court the key constituency in recent weeks. Obama recently took a rare presidential trip to Puerto Rico, which has a large diaspora population in swing states like Florida.

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