Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday issued the most direct call yet by a Congressional leader for action this year on comprehensive immigration reform.
As far as Im concerned, we have three major issues we have to do this year if at all possible: No. 1 is health care; No. 2 is energy, global warming; and No. 3 is immigration reform, Reid said after a meeting with Hispanic leaders.
Reid ruled out a gradual approach to overhauling the immigration system. And he said comprehensive reform should happen this year.
Im not going to deal with immigration on a piecemeal basis; its comprehensive reform, Reid said.
Any legislation that comes to the Senate floor, Reid said, must address border security, expand the guest worker program so it addresses more than agriculture, include a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants and include stronger penalties for companies that employ illegal workers.
Reids urgency to pass immigration legislation appears out of step with President Barack Obama and House Democratic leaders, who have largely steered clear of giving a time frame for moving a bill. Instead, Obama and leaders have advocated for beginning discussions on the issue this year.
In that vein, Obama is hosting a bipartisan, bicameral meeting at the White House with immigration stakeholders on June 17. The meeting, according to White House aides, is meant to be a starting point for laying the framework for comprehensive immigration reform, not a meeting about the need to move legislation now.
The meeting is intended to launch a policy conversation, with the hope of beginning the debate in earnest later this year, said a White House spokesperson.
House Democratic leaders have kept mum on when to expect action on legislation, largely because of their focus on other big-ticket domestic items.
Right now, we are focused on health care and energy legislation. But there have been many discussions on this issue, and we could start looking at comprehensive immigration reform as early as this fall, said Katie Grant, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
But reluctance among party leaders to tackle the issue in the immediate term hasnt stopped some elements of the House and Senate Democratic caucuses from bringing forward proposals that they are ready to push now.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), chairman of the Asian Pacific American Caucus, on Thursday introduced legislation that he said is at the heart of comprehensive immigration reform. The bill, called the Reuniting Families Act, would allow spouses and children of lawful permanent residents to more easily obtain visas.
Honda said his bill, which has 57 Democratic co-sponsors, is part of the build-up to Obamas June 17 meeting with immigration stakeholders. Honda, like other Members taking the lead on immigration reform, said he didnt know if he will be invited to the meeting.
Hondas bill would also allow same-sex partners of lawful permanent residents to get visas, a provision he said would not jeopardize comprehensive reform.
Our Constitution has grown and evolved and matured, said Honda, who became teary-eyed as he reflected on racial discrimination he has experienced. Today is just another step of evolving and understanding that when we say all families, we do mean all families. That is to include gay and lesbian families.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who has been trying to pass the same-sex partner provision as a standalone bill for nine years, also said he didnt think that very minor provision would bring down larger immigration reform efforts.
There may be some people who otherwise might support it who wont, but the bulk will and it will pass, Nadler said.