Immigration Calls To Beleaguered Democrats

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A big rally demanding comprehensive immigration reform is expected Sunday, but don't expect much action from Congress on the issue. Comprehensive reform is not a winner in an election year for Democrats; they'll have to give it a nod, but they are unlikely to take it on along with health care, financial regulations and jobs.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Tomorrow afternoon, at about the same time that the House meets for what could be a final showdown on health care, tens of thousand of people will march on the Capitol. That may not be a surprise, except this particular demonstration is about overhauling the nation's immigration laws. It's being called the March for America. Its aim is getting Congress to act on immigration this year.

But as NPR's David Welna reports, that might be a tall order, despite renewed efforts to make that happen.

DAVID WELNA: It's not as if Congress has nothing else going on this midterm election year. Not only is there the health-care makeover, there's also a long-delayed financial regulatory overhaul, stalled climate-change bills, and job-creating legislation. But Illinois Democrat Luis Gutierrez says it's scandalous this Congress has done nothing on immigration, and that President Obama has made things worse.

Representative LUIS GUTIERREZ (Democrat, Illinois) This administration - Barack Obama administration - will exceed the number of family separations and deportations than even at the height of George Bush, which is saying a lot. Understand the fear and the devastation that are going on. You know, it needs to get taken care of.

WELNA: It's the plight of some 12 million illegal immigrants that busloads of their supporters are coming to Washington to change.

Mr. GABE GONZALEZ (Director, Center for Community Change): We're expecting a whole lot. I would say easily over 80,000. It could top 100,000 or more.

WELNA: Gabe Gonzalez, of Washington's Center for Community Change, is the March for America's lead organizer. He says lawmakers would be foolish to ignore tomorrow's march, since 10 million highly motivated Latinos voted in the last presidential election.

Mr. GONZALEZ: There's a number of elections across the country where Latino and immigrant votes will be the difference, and there's going to be a huge problem with intensity if something isn't done on immigration reform. Of this we are certain.

WELNA: On Thursday, two senators, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and New York Democrat Charles Schumer, went to the White House and gave President Obama an outline of things they want done in an immigration overhaul -everything from biometric Social Security cards to a path to legalization for illegal immigrants.

Earlier in the week, on ABC, Graham accused the president of having done little on immigration.

Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): All youve done is talk about what we should do. Now's the time to lead. Tell the people at the rally next weekend that your administration will write a comprehensive immigration reform bill. I will be glad to look at it. If I like it, I'll sign on. If I oppose it, I'll tell you where I disagree - and see how many votes you can get.

WELNA: So far, Schumer says, Graham is the only Senate Republican willing to back a broad immigration makeover.

Sen. CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): Obviously, we need support. Weve been looking for that second Republican for a while. We have a few possibilities. We're going to ask the president to help us find that second Republican.

WELNA: Darrell West, of the Brookings Institution, says President Obama will likely have to take a lead on this issue.

Mr. DARRELL WEST (Brookings Institution): He's the one who could help pull together the coalition that is necessary for comprehensive immigration reform. It's always good to have senators who are taking the lead but in the end, it's the president who needs to sell this message.

WELNA: That may be a tough sell, though, even with the president's fellow Democrats. Virginia House Democrat Gerry Connolly says he's all for revamping immigration laws.

Representative GERRY CONNOLLY (Democrat, Virginia): But the real question is whether, you know, whether we can, the system - the congressional structure -can handle one more hot, fiery issue on the plate. And my guess is, reluctantly, probably not.

WELNA: Congress's plate, Connolly says, is already more than full.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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