The Obama administration will push for immigration reform in Congress once Democrats are certain they have enough votes to pass it, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday in Washington.
According to the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión, Salazar attended an event organized by the National Association of Hispanic Publications, where he said the reform bill “will be introduced when there is certainty as to the availability of the necessary votes for it to be approved,” reporter Antonieta Cádiz wrote.
With immigration becoming an increasingly controversial issue and the Democrats’ health care reform plan about to reach the Senate floor for a contentious debate, the statement would seem to place some doubt on when (or even whether) the administration-backed bill being prepared by Sen. Charles Schumer will actually be introduced.
At the same time, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D- Illinios), who’s authoring a bill of his own to be introduced in the House, warned Tuesday that there will be a short window for immigration reform to be debated –and eventually passed– after the approval of the health care bill and before the start of campaigning for the 2010 Congressional election.
La Opinión reported that Salazar said he has participated in meetings to analyze the political viability of the legislation, together with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, according to the report.
“We’ve worked really hard, but this is an issue that depends on time and on how we deal with the important points in the agenda… It can be expected that the administration will not withdraw its support from reform”, he said, according to a quote in Spanish.
“But it is essential that we don’t fail this time, that we are sure that this will happen”, he added.
After a health care debate that promises to be highly fractious, it remains to be seen how much political stamina the administration and Democratic leaders in Congress have to push another highly controversial issue — and one that has been manipulated by both parties in previous elections. Some Democrats have been wary of even talking about immigration reform while campaigning, although results from the November 2008 vote showed that a great majority of hardliners on the issue lost their races.
Gutierrez appeared Tuesday on the NPR show Tell Me More, where he said the window to pass immigration reform next year “is very small.”
“…you do health care, you get the energy bill passed in the House and the Senate. Get both of those bills signed by the president. That should bring us to about the beginning of February and that’s the window, I think you have that window of February and March.
“And once you go into April, you really have a diminishing opportunity because you do have the midterm elections getting closer and closer.”