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Democrats Turn Up Volume on Immigration

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says Congress is to blame for the lack of progress on immigration reform.

Democrats are touting immigration issues this month to the dismay of some Republicans, who would just as soon avoid stirring the pot on the divisive issue heading into election season.

Hispanic Heritage Month runs from mid-September to mid-October and has provided the backdrop for a controversial Alabama immigration law and Texas Gov. Rick Perry's spiraling poll numbers in the Republican presidential primary, as opponents call him soft on illegal immigrants.

The month has also given President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats a forum to trumpet immigration issues and court Latino voters.

In a Tuesday hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called a House Judiciary Committee-passed mandatory employee verification bill, which is unpopular among immigration activists, an "existential threat" and a "death sentence" for American farms.

A day earlier, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus blasted Alabama's law, which was just upheld in a federal court.

The group's chairman, Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas), called the law's provision that mandates checking people's immigration status at routine traffic stops an "abuse of governmental authority" and "textbook-style profiling."

Obama has been engaging the Latino population this month as well, doing everything from appointing pop singer Shakira to an administration post dealing with Hispanic education issues to announcing an Oct. 12 White House American Latino Heritage Forum with administration officials and Members of Congress.

On Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano spoke at American University, where she reiterated the administration's position that Congress is to blame for lack of progress on immigration reform.

"Congress hasn't acted and states continue to pass a patchwork of their own laws in an attempt to fill the void," the former Arizona governor said. "Congress needs to take up immigration reform once and for all. We have put forward our ideas and are ready to act quickly and collaboratively to support passage of reforms that make sense."

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American Republican from Florida, said Democrats are trying to "demagogue" the immigration issue, but he conceded there could be political ramifications if his party does the same.

"Democrats have been dismal on the issue. The problem is, Republicans haven't been very good either," he said. "If on our side, if Republicans demagogue it as well, then it will be a problem. ... If it becomes, 'Who can be the toughest on immigration?' then it creates a problem."

That problem could be unavoidable: A Harris poll conducted last month found that 90 percent of self-identified Republicans and 91 percent of tea party supporters polled consider "deporting more illegal aliens" a top priority second only to cutting government spending.

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