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Political Benefits of Immigration Gridlock

Immigration reform is impossible without some Republican support, but Democrats have an incentive to keep the issue in play anyway. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid responded this weekend to questions about when he would push for the DREAM Act, legislation that would help some undocumented students become citizens. The act has the backing of immigration advocates as an alternative to comprehensive reform, but Reid told liberal bloggers at Netroots Nation he does not have enough votes to get past a filibuster. “I’m not going to do the DREAM Act unless I have 60 votes,” he said. “It would be unfair to raise the hopes of all of those young people.”

The gridlock may be frustrating for those who want to see immigration reform pass, but it also has political benefits — particularly for Democrats hoping to win over Latino voters, as Scott Wong explains at Politico:

“If you’ve been milking it for all its worth as a political issue, you don’t want [immigration] to go away,” said former Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), who served more than 20 years in the House and was part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who pitched an unsuccessful immigration bill in 2005. …

One Democratic House aide said a handful of Republicans have launched their political careers by talking tough on illegal immigration.

“The hardest-line immigration hawks say they are for legal immigration but fight like hell against anything that resembles legal immigration,” said the aide, who specializes in immigration issues. “It’s a good political strategy, but it’s not a good immigration strategy. That is part of the problem that has led to gridlock.”

But President Barack Obama and other Democrats also have an incentive to keep the issue in play: They want Republicans to keep alienating Hispanic voters.

“There are always politicians who see this as a good political football vs. a policy problem to be solved,” the aide said. “They would rather have the fight over immigration to fire up Latino voters than jump into this with both feet.”

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