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Reid Narrows Goals for Immigration This Year

Senate Leader Suggests Pivot to Bills Focused on Children, Agriculture

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Sen. Dianne Feinstein is pushing a bill aimed at agricultural workers.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that while he remains committed to pursuing a comprehensive immigration reform bill, he may be forced to settle for a narrower measure this fall.

The Nevada Democrat has repeatedly said he would bring comprehensive legislation to the floor this year, but on Tuesday, he seemed to acknowledge he had lowered his sights.

He specifically mentioned the DREAM Act, which is focused on providing a path to citizenship and educational opportunities for children in the country illegally, as a viable alternative to broader legislation.

“We’re going to continue working on immigration. And if we find a way of doing the big bill, we’ll do that. If not, we’ll have to take a real strong look at the DREAM Act,” Reid said, adding that immigration legislation would not come up before the August recess.

Earlier in the day, Reid spokesman Jim Manley issued a statement saying the lack of GOP support for comprehensive immigration reform was forcing the Majority Leader to explore the possibility of passing smaller bills, such as the DREAM Act and a measure by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) focused on immigrant farm workers.

Reid “is still committed to reforming a system that is unfair to the American taxpayer, worker and economy, but that isn’t possible without Republican support,” Manley said. “In the meantime, he is exploring whether he can pass smaller legislation, such as AgJOBS or the DREAM Act, of which he is an original co-sponsor and longtime supporter.”

According to Democratic aides, Reid’s decision to explore the possibility of narrower legislation came after Reform Immigration for America — a coalition of immigration reform activists — urged him to do so.

In a July 22 letter to Reid, RIA Chairman Ali Noorani said, “We expect that you and your colleagues will not rest until Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform ... in the meantime, we strongly urge the Senate to move forward with the DREAM Act and AgJOBS now.”

Reid had previously indicated he would not abandon comprehensive reform in favor of narrower measures until reform activists had come to terms with the political realities standing in the way of a broad bill this year.

Democratic backers of the two bills praised the possibility of moving to a narrower approach.

“This has been 10 years [coming]. It’s a bipartisan bill,” Feinstein said of her legislation.

Feinstein also praised the DREAM Act: “There are children who just want the opportunity to go to college. ... This is what the American dream should be about.”

However, Majority Whip Dick Durbin, the sponsor of the DREAM Act, acknowledged some Democrats will not vote for it, and it remains to be seen whether backers can muster enough GOP support to move the bill.

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