Immigration reform is main priority for senators

A sense of urgency filled the first immigration reform hearing for the Senate in the 13th Congress on Wednesday as both officials from the Obama administration and lawmakers declared that there is a rare opportunity for compromise on one of the most divisive issues in the United States.

Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security Secretary, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the US is “at a unique moment in history” and has a real chance of passing bipartisan immigration reform during this session of Congress.  “For the first time in recent memory, we are seeing a bipartisan consensus emerge about what those commonsense steps should be,” Napolitano said.  “We must not miss this opportunity.”

In Obama’s State of the Union speech on Wednesday, the President urged lawmakers to pass a bill that he can then sign into law.  Republicans in the Senate have signaled an increased willingness to deal with the issue as a way of reaching out to voters in the Latino community, who showed overwhelming support to Obama in his re-election late last year.

The committee’s chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy, says that he is intent on making sure that the panel votes on legislation this coming spring.  Should the committee be able to pass such a bill, that legislation would then be put to a vote to the entire Senate.  “Our window of opportunity will not stay open long,” Leahy points out.  “If we are going to act on this issue, we must do so without delay.”