As President Barack Obama vows to refocus Democrats’ attention on jobs and the economy, advocates for overhauling the nation’s immigration laws say they are still gearing up for a battle in the Senate in coming weeks, despite fading hopes for victory.
Washington’s drawn-out health-care debate badly damaged prospects for an immigration bill this winter. It ate up weeks of the Senate’s time, sapped progressive lawmakers’ energy and stoked a backlash that cost Democrats the seat of late Edward M. Kennedy, the chamber’s most prominent champion of liberal health-care and immigration policies.
With time running out before lawmakers want to start focusing on the November elections, “immigration is deader than a doornail,” one veteran Senate lobbyist put it. Advocates’ frustration peaked last week when Obama devoted a single sentence in his 71-minute State of the Union address to a topic he ranked as a top legislative priority last summer, after health care and an energy bill.
Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who has introduced a House bill favoured by immigrant groups, said there was “disillusionment” among advocates across the country. “There’s almost universal consensus that the president — it was too little,” Gutierrez said, noting that by contrast, Obama pledged in the speech to repeal the military’s ban on service by openly gay people this year. “He was very weak on immigration, lackadaisical.”