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Tuesday, Mar 12 2013 11:00 PM

What happened to reforming immigration?

By The Bakersfield Californian

Not long ago, the momentum for comprehensive immigration reform was gaining speed at a pace so startling it seemed likely we'd have a bill before Congress by summer. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, in both houses of Congress as well as the White House, seemed to generally agree on the key provisions of an immigration law makeover.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as the unofficial spokesman of the Senate's reform-writing, bipartisan Gang of Eight, spelled out an immigration plan that in several significant ways mirrored what came later from President Obama. Then the parties seemed to catch themselves. Compromise? Cooperation? Those words aren't in the playbook.

The deal-staller, it seems, was the sequestration fight. Obama overplayed his hand and lost -- but not before, in an effort to dramatize the adverse consequences of the sequester, he authorized the release of 2,000 illegal immigrants detained by Homeland Security for criminal offenses. Releasing those undocumented detainees only underscored the fears of his Republican critics: That deportation and border security are not as big a part of Obama's plan as they might be.

The president's rhetoric became more negative by the day. But, though polls showed the public generally supported him on sequestration over congressional Republicans, the scheduled across-the-board budget cuts took place anyway. We saw some harmful consequences but the sky did not fall.

Now, as Obama and the Democrats try to recover in budget talks some of what was lost in the sequestration stare-down, the president has launched a "schmooze offensive," lunching with some of the same Republicans who've given him the most trouble. On Tuesday, he was back on Capitol Hill, courting lawmakers on a range of issues including gun control legislation, tax reform and entitlement spending cuts. But no immigration reform.

Nothing on Obama's current agenda is unimportant, but one significant issue seems to have been pushed aside. Obama needs to put bipartisan immigration reform back on the table while all of that recent progress still has legs. There's no reason Congress can't enact such legislation this year.

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