3 Reasons Why an Immigration Reform Timeline Matters

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A group of Democrats and Republicans working on an immigration reform bill in the Senate will almost certainly miss a self-imposed March deadline to produce draft legislation. And yesterday, one of the groups foremost members, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), cautioned that a bill might not come in early April, either.

Why does the deadline matter? Here are three reasons.

See Also: An Immigration Hawk Strikes a New Tone in the House

1. Momentum

The November presidential election -- where Obama housed Romney among Latinos, taking 71 percent of the vote -- got people in Washington talking about immigration reform as a way for the Republican party to win Latino voters.

But that was five months ago, and political memory can be short.

"Once the sting of the election starts to wear off a little bit, I think there's less of an impetus to act on this issue," said Marshall Fitz, immigration policy director at the liberal Center for American Progress. "You've got to act when the issue is fresh and everyone is very cognizant of the political implications...The political implications aren't going to change as we go further into this, but the calculus of the members may start to get obscured."

2. Deportations

Lots of interests groups would like to see an immigration deal inked sooner than later, but no one group feels the pressure more than immigrants who are living in the country without authorization.

Even while President Obama stumps for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, his administration continues to deport record numbers of people, many of them for immigration-related offenses. A recent report in The New York Times found that on any given day, about 300 people in immigration detention are kept in solitary confinement, treatment that could have lasting psychological effects.

"There is a sense that every day of delay is a day in which people continue to be deported who would otherwise be eligible for relief," Fitz said. "It's not like delay is the status quo. The delay is continued active harm on the community and on immigrant families."

3. Primaries

If the so-called Senate "Gang of Eight" working on immigration reform is able to produce a bill in April, the Senate and House could feasibly vote and pass legislation before the August recess in Congress.

But any further significant delay could jeopardize that timeline. If Congress continues to negotiate the bill in the fall, some Republican members of the House facing reelection in 2014 may be less likely to give their support, fearing a primary challenger who will use the issue as a political cudgel.

"I think the House leadership feels like they've got to get this done and behind them by [the August recess] because their guys are going to be unwilling to take a tough vote after that," Fitz said.

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