Immigration reform still not close

Marchers in Los Angeles on a Day Without Immigrants or the Great American Boycott, May 1, 2006.

KAI RYSSDAL: Immigration rallies around the country this May Day have been far smaller this year than last. Even as Congress gets ready for another go round at immigration reform.

The Senate's set the end of this month as a deadline for passing . . . something. Lawmakers in the House do have a bill pending. They're just waiting to see what the Senate manages to do.

Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale reports back-room politicking hasn't done much so far.


JOHN DIMSDALE: Organizers of this spring's immigration marches and rallies acknowledge the public's participation has dropped from last year.

But Clarissa Martinez, with the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, says last November's elections changed things.

CLARISSA MARTINEZ: Last year, we had a proposal that attempted to criminalize not only undocumented immigrants, but almost anybody who came into contact with them. Which led the Catholic church to even denounce that legislation.

This year, recognizing that the looming presidential election campaign will swamp efforts to find compromises, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid scheduled the last two weeks of May for floor debate on immigration.

But despite intense closed-door negotiations, Senators have yet to find a bill that would attract the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

The chief immigration lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Randall Johnson, is losing confidence a bill can be passed this year.

RANDALL JOHNSON: I would have rated it probably 70-30 a few months ago, and I'll put it at 50-50 now.

The Chamber supports reform, but Johnson says businesses and Republicans are fighting Democrats' insistence on setting minimum wages for guest workers.

To get more Republicans on-board, Democratic negotiators, such as Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, are considering requiring illegal immigrants to return to their home countries before they may apply for residency in the U.S. It's called a touch-back.

ROBERT MENENDEZ: If it is done in a way in which that individual applies in their native country but is allowed to come back after such an application — particularly when they have family here — as they wait for that decision to be dispositive, it might very well be possible.

Negotiators are using the end of May deadline as pressure to gain concessions. But the White House, which has been trying to gather Republican support for a legalization plan for most undocumented immigrants, has set its own timetable of August for a final bill.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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