President Barack Obama has strongly denounced a “misguided” Arizona immigration bill that would give police unprecedented authority to question and arrest people because of their immigration status. Obama said Friday morning that the legislation would “open the door to irresponsibility by others” and “threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe,” Politico reports. Obama added that he has instructed his administration to closely monitor the civil rights implications of the bill.
The president also suggested that the Arizona bill—which the state’s GOP governor, Jan Brewer, has until Saturday to sign or veto—pointed to the urgent need for federal-level immigration reform. “If we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country,” Obama said. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have also indicated that a comprehensive immigration overhaul could happen this year, even ahead of a climate and energy bill.
In fact, Obama reached out this week to Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and other Senate Republicans to ask them to consider supporting immigration reform. And in a conference call Thursday night, Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who released his own reform bill last year, reiterated the need for GOP backing in the House as well. Estimating that an immigration bill would gather about 200 or 205 Democratic votes, Gutierrez said, “We’re going to need about 20 Republicans. This is not rhetoric from the Democratic Party trying to slip and slide away, it’s just true—we have to go and find them.”
Leading Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham—who’s been working with Sen. Chuck Schumer on an immigration bill—have thrown cold water on Congress’s ability to pass reform this year. But there are signs of some bipartisan interest in the issue. This week, GOP Sen. Richard Lugar and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin urged the Obama administration to stop deporting students who are illegal immigrants. This reform is at the heart of the DREAM Act that the two senators co-authored—a piece of legislation that’s had long-standing bipartisan support and could be a key component of a comprehensive bill.
In the meantime, Gutierrez and other immigration reform advocates are demanding that the Senate bring forward a bill by May 1, the day that nationwide immigration rallies are set to take place. Their goal is to pressure the Democratic leadership to take up immigration reform in the working period between Memorial Day and July 4—the only feasible time to tackle the question before the midterms. “We need to make sure that we make a situation that’s intolerable for Democrats if they don’t act,” Gutierrez added.