Protestors marched in front of city hall in Los Angeles.
(AP Photo/Branimir Kvartuc)

After immigration reform legislation bogged down in Washington, D.C., last week, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets from New York to San Diego on April 10. In city after city, throngs of immigrants and their American-born friends and supporters massed to push Congress to offer a legal citizenship pathway to millions of undocumented, mostly Spanish-speaking immigrants who have poured into the U.S. over the past several years. The mood in the streets Monday was one of stalwart solidarity, with American flags outnumbering all others by an overwhelming margin. By contrast, attempts at finding common ground on Capitol Hill split last week along partisan fault lines.

Supporters of comprehensive legislation to reform the nation’s immigration laws vowed to revisit the issue after a bipartisan proposal fell apart last week.

“The battle must go on,” the bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), said in a floor statement April 7 after a cloture vote on a compromise proposal crafted by Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) failed by a 39-60 vote.

Officials on both sides of the aisle are pointing fingers over the pact’s demise, with some Republicans claiming that Democrats killed the proposal by blocking amendments that Democrats counter would have essentially gutted the legislation.

In an April 7 press briefing, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan blamed partisan Democrats for preventing the proposal from moving forward in the Senate. “”We call on the Senate Minority Leader to stop blocking this process from moving forward so that we can get comprehensive immigration reform passed.’

Lawmakers ranging from Kennedy to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) had hailed the Martinez-Hagel proposal as a breakthrough. A key difference between the Martinez-Hagel legislation and a proposal approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee March 28 involved the way undocumented workers would be handled. The Martinez-Hagel proposal would have broken undocumented workers into three groups: those in the country longer than five years, who would be permitted to stay; those in the country less than two years, who would be sent home; and those in the country between two and five years, who would be required to return to their home countries briefly before being permitted to return as temporary workers.

The House passed a more stringent bill focusing more heavily on border enforcement and security in December.

As thousands of Latino and immigrant groups prepared to rally across the nation in support of immigration reform on Monday this week, lawmakers and political observers were still optimistic about the bill’s prospects upon Congress’ return from its two-week Easter recess.

“I’m not quite ready to say the compromise has fallen apart,” says AGC’s director of congressional relations for human resources and labor Kelly Knott. “I believe what happened on Friday was politics trumping policy…I’m not certain whether policy will win out over politics when they get back, but I’m hopeful that it will.”

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Director of Immigration Policy Angelo Amador adds, “Republicans and Democrats [in the Senate] are working as if this is moving forward.” In fact, “people now feel that there is time to reach a consensus” to further refine the bill beyond what was agreed to in the compromise, Amador says. For example, negotiations continue on how an employment verification system should be phased-in and what triggers and standards should be applied, he says.

With severe shortages affecting the construction workplace, construction groups like AGC support comprehensive reform. AGC would like to see legislation that strengthens U.S. borders, creates a new guestworker visa and establishes a realistic way of addressing the undocumented workers already in the country. Knott adds, “We view it as a three-legged stool, and if you don’t have one of the legs, you don’t have a very strong stool.”