WASHINGTON – Key senators from both major parties have initiated new discussions on broad immigration reform, after Democrats attempted to take up the explosively controversial issue last year only to see it fail.
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the point persons on immigration for their respective parties, have reportedly spurred talks between lawmakers and relevant interest groups about an invigorated push for reform.
“It’s in the infant stage,” Graham told Politico. “I don’t know what the political appetite is to do something.”
Schumer told the paper that he recently initiated “preliminary talks, particularly with outside groups” in an attempt to build support for a measure.
“And who knows, we might surprise everyone and get something done,” he told Politico. “We realize it is a tough thing to do, but it is very important, and it’s worth a shot. We’ve been getting interesting, positive responses — from places you wouldn’t expect it.”
It’s too early to tell whether the effort will be viable. Republicans, who were defiant against a broad overhaul last year, have since taken control of the House of Representatives and expanded their numbers in the Senate.
Interest groups expected to play an important role in shaping any effort are business groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce, labor unions like AFL-CIO and SEIU, Latino groups, and pro- and anti-immigrant organizations. Several of them confirmed to Politico that Schumer reached out to them.
President Barack Obama made a passionate call for immigration reform in his State of the Union address last month, asking Congress to offer a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants and make it easier for skilled workers to gain permanent residency.
Republican leaders have said they won’t negotiate until the Obama administration secures the border first — a position that remained unchanged even after the White House successfully pushed for a $600 million surge in funding for border enforcement last summer.
Graham was the lone Republican senator who participated in bipartisan immigration talks last year, but backed out before any deal could be struck. In the 112th Congress, Democrats will have to sway many more Republicans in order to mount a serious push.
The issue of whether to offer legal status to the roughly 10 million undocumented immigrants is likely to be highly polarizing, as it has been in the past.
Even though there is broad agreement that the immigration system needs an overhaul, balancing the wishes of the various factions will be tremendously difficult given that some want more permissive immigration measures