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Chances for U.S. immigration reform good, but pitfalls remain


14:07, February 06, 2013

WASHINGTON, Feb. 5 (Xinhua) -- The chances of passing U.S. immigration reform are high, but the devil is in the details, and those finer points could be a stumbling block for cooperation in a bitterly divided Congress.

The long-simmering debate over fixing the nation's broken immigration system kicked off Tuesday with a House hearing after President Barack Obama vowed last week to take action in his second term.

While former President George W. Bush tried his hand at reform with a bill that ultimately failed, experts said conditions this time are ripe for Congress to hammer out a deal.

"For the first time in many years, members of both parties have political incentives to reform our broken immigration system," said Darrell M. West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

"With the poor showing of Republicans in the 2012 elections, they need to address the immigration issues that are at the top of the political agenda for most Latino voters," he said, referring to the Republican Party's loss of more than 70 percent of the Latino vote and that party's need, by its own admission, to cast off the image of a party of old, white males.

Citing polls showing 70 percent of Americans want immigration reform, Democratic Strategist Joe Trippi expressed hope Monday during a Fox News panel that Congress could come to an agreement.

"Democrats really believe that the nation's ready for this," he said.

Speaking on the same panel, former Bush administration advisor Karl Rove noted a growing sense among GOP lawmakers that they need to get the issue behind them and begin making inroads with Hispanic voters.

Two proposals have been floated - one rolled out recently by a group of eight Senators and the other outlined last week by President Barack Obama. Both propose similar measures, but details differ significantly enough to tie negotiations in knots, and experts said both sides must tread carefully.

Rove said issues including border security and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants could cause Congressional fistfight, with differences over whether border security should come first.

"It' s a complicated issue," he said of efforts to reform the system that has created 11 million undocumented workers while millions of visa applicants remained stuck in a massive backlog.

West said the biggest pitfall will be outside pressures from people who dislike illegal immigrants or oppose particular aspects of the legislation.

Radio talk show hosts - many of whom are known to be far-right conservatives - will rally their base in opposition to meaningful reform and that will be a major barrier to action, he said.

Still, the failures of the past - former President George W. Bush pushed in 2007 for comprehensive reform that ultimately failed - could drive the current process forward, experts said.

For the GOP, key to the pulling both traditional Republicans together with newly elected Tea Party members is rising star Sen. Marco Rubio, experts said.

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