Immigration Authors: Optimism, Caution

Photograph by John Moore/Getty Images

Dominican immigrants pose for photos after becoming American citizens at a special Valentine’s Day naturalization ceremony for married couples on Feb. 14, 2013 in Tampa, Florida.

There’s a lot of optimism and happy talk from President Barack Obama and lawmakers on Capitol Hill these days about the prospects of pushing through a bipartisan immigration rewrite this year. Yet among those tasked with hashing out such a compromise, there’s also a hefty dose of realism about the difficulty of that job.

Staffers grinding away on the plan made a private plea today to Latino elected officials not to abandon the legislation once it’s unveiled, warning them that it would be a compromise that wouldn’t fully please either side. It’s an acknowledgement that, even as momentum gathers behind an immigration revamp, the challenges that have undermined past efforts remain.

It would take “Armageddon” to derail the effort this time, Enrique Gonzalez III, immigration counsel to Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida told a group of Latino elected officials at a private briefing today, according to two people present.

Still Gonzalez, who Rubio recently brought on board to spearhead his immigration efforts, also warned that the measure won’t be perfect and exhorted those present to get behind it anyway, according to attendees, or risk seeing it collapse as a similar effort did in 2007.

The comments came at a luncheon sponsored by the National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund and the people described them on condition of anonymity since it was declared “off the record.”

The session also featured an aide to another of the Senate’s bipartisan gang of eight on immigration, Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, as well as to two staffers to House members working on a parallel effort, Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra of California and Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida. All were bullish about their chances of reaching an agreement, and the Republicans described a sea change among lawmakers in their party they said gave them hope.

Indeed, Republicans have moved off their opposition to allowing a path to legal status for the 11 million undocumented immigrants estimated to be living in the U.S., after their party’s 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney drew only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote compared witho Obama’s 71 percent. Yet some prominent lawmakers, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, are still against allowing them to eventually gain citizenship — a central demand of Obama, congressional Democrats and advocacy groups.

Insiders are already warning that longtime proponents of an immigration overhaul may not get everything they want. Attendees said Menendez’s chief counsel, Kerri Sherlock Talbot, asked Latinos at today’s briefing to remain united behind the legislation even though it would be a “centrist bill” and a compromise, knowing it would be “the best we can do.”


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