Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Elias: Amnesty has little chance this year

Elias: Amnesty has little chance this year
By Tom Elias
Every poll shows there are few things California's burgeoning Latino community wants more from government this year than immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for persons now in this country illegally, also known as amnesty.
But despite happy talk from President Barack Obama and some other leading Democrats, chances of this happening are very slim.
The Democrats who now possess large but shaky majorities in both the U.S. Senate and House are not nearly as united on this cause as they are on health care - and their brand of unity on that cause has produced nothing close to what Obama promised as a candidate in 2008. There is no publicly run health insurance option on the table. The proposed requirement that all citizens must have health insurance has all but disappeared, and more.
If Democrats who once appeared united on health care reform can't even pass a truncated version of that, there's not much chance they will produce an immigration amnesty no matter what their leaders might say. For there's nothing even approaching unity on immigration reform. That's because politicians of all stripes know that no matter how many requirements and fines they might impose on illegal immigrants seeking permanent legal status, there will be strong opposition back home.
Why would Democrats bother keeping on talking about various combinations of immigration amnesty and tougher border and employment enforcement when they know it won't pass?
Chances are it's because they've been promising reform (amnesty) to Hispanic voters so long and have reaped so many Latino votes in the process that any verbal backing off risks alienating much of this increasingly important voter bloc.
Some call it pandering, but Democrats lack the votes to prevent a Senate filibuster on any immigration reform plan that involves amnesty, even with a different name.
So we see House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco carefully saying her chamber will likely wait until after the Senate acts on immigration before making any moves of its own. The odds of the Senate acting first are somewhere between slim and none; all the prominent immigration proposals of the past few months have emanated from the House.
Meanwhile, many first-term House Democrats elected in the 2008 Obama sweep fear a voter backlash if they OK amnesty. They and their Republican jousting partners are alike in one important way: Most care more about re-election than virtually any other cause.
That why Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, quickly OK'd Pelosi's plan to let the Senate act first and prove it can "get something done."
Don't expect Obama to push Congress on this even as hard as he did on health care, where he's often criticized from the left for not being strong enough. Obama's top aide, former Illinois Congressman Rahn Emanuel, once called immigration "the third rail of American politics." So the White House knows this is a toxic issue and will understand when Democrats run from it in an election year.
And they will. Not just members of the House. Senators like Colorado's appointed Michael Bennet, who faces his first election campaign this year, will be understandably leery of the issue that made Tom Tancredo, a longtime Colorado congressman, into a national figure and a presidential candidate.
Obama, meanwhile, nominally backs a plan written by Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, the House Hispanic Caucus chairman who knows the president well from their days in Chicago politics. This one calls for much tougher enforcement efforts, criminal background checks for current illegals wanting to stay, a six-year wait for permanent legal status. It's similar to the plan pursued unsuccessfully by Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee for president.
Noting that 10 million Hispanic voters turned out in 2008, the vast majority going for Obama, amnesty advocate Frank Sharry, head of a group called America's Voice, threatens that "a lot of those voters won't turn out in the midterm elections," in swing states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida unless there is an amnesty of some kind.
That vague threat carries less clout with most members of Congress than the letters they get from angry constituents - and two polls late last year found that about 60 percent of U.S. citizens oppose any form of legalization for illegal immigrants.
All of which means Gutierrez and others who insist there will be immigration reform this year are whistling past the graveyard. It won't happen.
E-mail Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net.

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