WASHINGTON, Aug. 13, 2010— -- The Senate passed a $600 million measure Thursday to beef up U.S. border security in a rare bipartisan effort on immigration reform. It came during an equally rare special August session, held after most lawmakers have left Washington for the summer recess.
"With this bill's passage today, we have clearly shown we are serious about securing our nation's borders," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, one of only two Senators present for the voice vote.
President Obama praised the legislation, which he will sign today, as an important step "toward bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform to secure our borders, and restore responsibility and accountability to our broken immigration system."
But enacting sweeping changes of America's immigration system -- including a strategy to address the country's 10.8 million illegal immigrants -- remains a complex and thorny political issue with little chance of resolution in a contentious election year.
And the legislative impasse, which has frustrated voters from across the political spectrum, could have consequences for both major parties in November and beyond.
Dozens of states have enacted or considered their own immigration legislation with Congress failing to implement broad reforms. Florida became the latest state Tuesday, with a proposed law that would follow in the footsteps of Arizona's strict new immigration enforcement measure.
Meanwhile, immigrant communities across the country, particularly Hispanics, are growing disillusioned with promises by the Obama administration and lawmakers of both parties to improve the legal immigration process and provide a conditional pathway to legal status for undocumented residents.
"While the Democratic leadership may suggest that the additional enforcement resources will satisfy the clamor for more enforcement from Republicans, that is not likely to be the case," said the National Immigration Forum in a statement on passage of today's border security bill.
"When demands for more resources are met, restrictionist members of Congress make new demands. This pattern has been playing out for years now."
Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, regarded as one of the most trusted figures in Spanish-language media, now says President Obama has lost his support, too.
"President Barack Obama made a promise to have immigration reform and he broke that promise. It's very simple," Ramos said.
The stakes for both parties in the immigration debate could not be higher.
Majorities of Americans, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, favor stricter border-control measures to fight illegal immigration.
At the same time, 57 percent support giving illegal immigrants living in the United States a chance to earn citizenship. That includes 66 percent of Democrats, 56 percent of independents and 49 percent of Republicans.
Hispanics, the fastest growing minority group, will comprise 60 percent of the country's population by 2030, according to U.S. Census Bureau projections. And while a majority have tended to self-identify as Democrats, their support for either party in the long term could hinge on immigration policies.
"I don't know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Tuesday.
That remark drew a swift rebuke from Hispanic Republican lawmakers, who said Democrats don't entirely represent Hispanic values.
"The number-one issue in the Hispanic community in America is economic empowerment, the desire to leave their children better off than themselves," said Florida Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio. "And so that's why Hispanics should be Republicans, and I believe a growing number of Hispanics will become Republicans because the agenda Reid supports kills Hispanic dreams for their children."
Whether more Hispanics "become Republicans" in the wake of legislative inaction by a Democratically-controlled Congress and with a Democrat in the White House will become clear in November and elections in the years ahead.