Skip to content

Immigration Reform Supporters Take Piecemeal Approach

The Supreme Court’s decision Thursday to uphold an Arizona illegal immigration law is unlikely to boost the chances of comprehensive reform this year. But although a sweeping immigration bill may be dead for now, supporters are pursuing narrower bills that they hope will find some bipartisan support.

The court’s 5-3 ruling upholds an Arizona E-Verify law allowing state officials to penalize businesses for hiring illegal immigrants. Although Sen. Bob Menendez, a leading supporter of immigration reform, said the ruling was a “further example of Congress’ failure to enact comprehensive” legislation, he downplayed its effect on the debate.

“Comprehensive immigration reform is challenging in this Congress,” the New Jersey Democrat said at a news conference last week.

A spokesman for Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of the leading proponents for comprehensive reform in the House, agreed. “The Congressman thinks the Supreme Court decision probably will not change the equation much for immigration. There is still an impasse with Republicans,” spokesman Douglas Rivlin said in a statement.

Both Democrats are continuing their efforts to pursue narrower measures.

Gutierrez joined Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D), immigration activists and religious leaders in Los Angeles on Saturday to push for passage of the DREAM Act. The event was part of a national tour Gutierrez launched March 31 to support the legislation, which would create a path to citizenship for some immigrants who were illegally brought to the United States before age 16 if they go to college or serve in the military.

Gutierrez is also pushing the White House to limit deportations until Congress acts. “We are deporting more than a thousand people per day with no apparent benefit other than broken families, disillusioned voters and a ‘get tough’ sound bite for politicians,” Rivlin said.

Menendez introduced legislation Thursday that would provide a path to citizenship for service members’ relatives who are in the country illegally. The Senator said the bill is aimed at “lifting the cloud of deportation from the family members waiting for [soldiers] to come home.”

Republicans included visa language in a jobs package they unveiled Thursday. Democrats have traditionally sought to tie that language, which covers H-1B visas for temporary workers, to the DREAM Act, and top Democrats appeared to remain firm on that position Thursday.

“H-1B is something I’ve always been for; it’s part of our innovation agenda,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a news conference last week. “But we would hope that those who care about H-1B visas will care about other aspects of reform, including the DREAM Act.”

Menendez said he hopes immigration bills such as his or the DREAM Act could draw GOP support. “I would hope there are some potential singular actions that we could come together on,” he said, even as he acknowledged that bipartisanship has remained difficult on the thorny issue.

Congressional reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday was evidence of the partisan divide.

Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver denounced the decision. “It seems as though [the court] would like for our communities to think about immigration in terms of ‘us vs. them,’ and I reject that notion,” the Missouri Democrat said in a statement.

“It is time that we all come to the table, negotiate, and fix our broken immigration system. We need reform if we want to level the playing field in the workplace and stop the race to the bottom that our current system promotes,” he added.

Rep. Trent Franks, a strong supporter of the Arizona law, dismissed those complaints. “It was something I believed would be upheld. … There’s nothing unconstitutional about E-Verify,” the Arizona Republican said.

But Franks regarded the decision as an example of judicial activism that he said has permeated the Supreme Court. “We have four essentially liberal ideologues who have no fealty or loyalty to the Constitution, four who do and one who isn’t sure. … The court has become so politicized beyond anything the Founding Fathers could have ever envisioned,” he said.

Jessica Brady contributed to this report.