Analysis: Why Immigration Reform Isn't a Guarantee

"Illegal immigration is wrong, plain and simple," he said. "People who enter the United States without our permission are illegal aliens. When we use phrases like 'undocumented workers,' we convey a message to the American people that their government is not serious about combating illegal immigration."

The senator used the term "illegal" 30 times and "alien" 9 times during his speech, Colorlines later reported.

Schumer spoke as if immigration reform could happen in 2009, and pledged his party's support. At the time, both the Senate and the House were controlled by Democrats -- a moment of legislative power for the party.

"When the president asks me whether Congress can pass comprehensive immigration reform this Congress, I will smile and say, 'Mr. President, yes we can,' " Schumer said at the conference. "All of the fundamental building blocks are in place to pass comprehensive immigration reform this session and, even possibly, later this year."

Yet two months later, immigration reform was dead. Speaking at a North American leaders' summit in Mexico, Obama said the administration couldn't tackle immigration because it was deep in battles over healthcare and climate change laws.

"It's important for us to sequence these big initiatives," the president told reporters, "so they don't all crash at the same time."

When the State of the Union came around, one year into the presidency, immigration was practically a footnote:

"We should continue the work of fixing our immigration system," Obama said. "To secure our borders and enforce our laws and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nation."

That's all he said.

The first-year promise was broken, so attention turned to 2010. With Tea Party fervor on the rise, midterm elections threatened to end the Democrat's narrow control of the House (Spoiler alert: that November, the House would go commandingly red).

Immigration barely surfaced on the president's agenda. Schumer's immigration reform bill -- even with its enforcement-centered priorities -- didn't materialize.

By summer 2010, young undocumented activists had lost patience and decided to redirect the conversation. Dreamers set up camp outside Schumer's Midtown Manhattan office and launched a hunger strike. The goal: to force the senator to endorse the DREAM Act, a bill that would create a path to citizenship for undocumented young people who serve in the military or attend college.

As it stood, Schumer supported the legislation, but as part of a greater immigration reform package. Yet he hadn't released a reform bill up to this point, and November elections were only five months away.

On the tenth and final day of the action, Schumer met with the protestors.

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