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Senators attempt to revive immigration reform debate

Immigration reform took a backseat to health care and economic policy on the congressional agenda this year, but two Democratic Senators aimed to bring it back to the forefront by introducing a new immigration bill last week.

The bill has little chance of succeeding, according to some policy experts. However, a spokeswoman for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who cosponsored the bill with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), said the senators want to start moving immigration reform along before a new Congress convenes in January.

“If there’s an opportunity to move a comprehensive immigration reform bill this Congress, the Senators want to be ready,” said Leahy’s press secretary Erica Chabot

Dubbed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010, the 874-page bill introduced Thursday aims to improve border security, allotting $300 million to infrastructure enhancements along border entry points and calling for annual increases in immigration attorneys, judges and investigators.

It also establishes a new legal status for undocumented immigrants called Lawful Prospective Immigrant.

The temporary designation would allow undocumented people living in the U.S. as of Sept. 30 to register with the government and legalize their residency and gain work and travel authorization if they have a clean criminal record.

Eligibility for the status would extend to spouses and children living in the U.S. or abroad, who could be granted dependent status.

But immigration policy expert Victoria DeFrancesco Soto said timing the bill on the heels of elections will hurt its chances of moving forward.

“You’re not going to see politicians sticking their neck out,” DeFrancesco Soto said, especially in close elections.

She also said any proposed immigration reform will need input from both sides of the aisle to have a chance at succeeding.

Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who’s in the home stretch of his campaign for U.S. Senate, said he would support Menendez’s bill if elected in November.

“Alexi understands how important it is to reform our immigration system as soon as possible,” said campaign spokesman Scott Burnham.

Opponents of the bill say any reform allowing undocumented immigrants to take home paychecks when millions of Americans are out of work encourages more illegal immigration.

“You don’t reward people who have no respect for immigration laws and the sovereignty of the United States,” said Dave Gorak, executive director of the Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration.

The comprehensive reform act would not reach the Senate floor until after the November elections, when the Senate is back in session.  Even then, there is no guarantee it will reach a vote in the Senate.

First, it needs to be voted on and passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Leahy is the chairman of.  The committee can revise the bill before moving it back to the Senate floor for debate.  All Senators have the right to unlimited debate and opportunity to suggest amendments to the bill before it is voted on and, if passed, brought to the house.

Opposing Senators can essentially talk a bill to death by prolonging the debate until the bill is changed or withdrawn it from consideration.

Chabot said she could not speculate on when the legislation might be considered, but said both senators were prepared to move the bill through the current Congress if the opportunity presents itself.

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