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Congress needs push to pass immigration reform now

Updated: November 10, 2013 8:15PM

If enough people pay attention, America could get sensible immigration reform.

That was the hope of more than 100 reform advocates who were ticketed for blocking traffic Wednesday afternoon at Congress and Clark outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office at 101 W. Congress. The rally was one of many similar events staged around the country in recent weeks, and more are on the way.

After years of debate, the U.S. Senate last summer passed comprehensive immigration reform, but the legislation is languishing in the House with just a couple of weeks remaining on the legislative calendar. On Friday, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said there’s not enough time remaining to deal with the issue this year.

Still, the outlines of a compromise have emerged, and — with enough prodding — Congress just might enact it into law.

“Some of the people who said they would never go along with immigration reform have changed,” said Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, who supports the goals of those at Wednesday’s rally. “There were two huge poles of disagreement, and over time the two camps on the opposite sides have shrunk and the camp in the middle has grown.”

The outlines of that compromise are in the Senate bill, which includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country as well as strong border security measures favored by some Republicans. Now, the House needs to pass comprehensive legislation that can move the issue to a House-Senate conference, where a final version can be hammered out and sent to President Barack Obama.

On Tuesday, Obama asked top business leaders who had gathered at the White House to encourage Republican support for reform.

Until now, House Republicans have focused on a piecemeal approach that deals with one aspect of immigration reform at a time, which Democrats oppose because it could result in more border security, for example, but not a path to citizenship. So far, not even the piecemeal measures have made it to the floor.

Some Republicans are leery of being punished by voters in their districts for appearing to reward immigrants for coming to this country illegally. Others may not want to hand Obama a political victory.

But some Democrats think the political winds are changing enough that immigration reform can become a reality.

From this perspective, the recent government shutdown has marginalized the tea party wing of the Republican Party, which now must show it can govern. Polls indicate that after the shutdown, Republicans also face the possibility that the Democrats could pick up the 17 seats they need in 2014 to regain control of the House. In many of the districts that will be in play, the Latino vote is significant. In the 2012 president race, Obama got 71 percent of the Latino vote, leading some Republicans to fear they can’t win national elections if they continue to bottle up immigration reform.

There’s also the human equation. For years, the nation has labored under policies that are both inhumane and economically destructive. Who really wants to see families torn apart when a breadwinner is taken away for deportation, or workers being taken advantage of because fear of deportation keeps them from standing up for themselves? It doesn’t need to be this way.

The immigration reform bill the Senate has put on the table doesn’t fully satisfy anybody because it’s a compromise. But compromise is what’s needed now.

Last month, U.S. Representatives Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky, both Illinois Democrats, were arrested in Washington during an immigration rally. Schakowsky said the arrests were necessary to bring attention to the debate.

“There are real [issues] are out there instead of these manufactured crises, and they are getting no attention,” she said.

It’s time to give immigration reform that attention — and to make it the law.

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