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Kick off

Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and twenty fellow Democrats are doing just this, introducing immigration reform this week in the House of Representatives.

The bill firmly endorses an amnesty route for those already in the country illegally, but it also encourages strengthened border protection and enforcement regulations.

"The time for waiting is over," said Gutierrez in presenting the bill on the House floor.

The long awaited measure comes at a busy time on Capitol Hill and will have to battle for floor time with many other issues of the moment.

In an interview from his Capitol Hill office, Congressman Joseph Crowley, a co-sponsor of the Gutierrez measure, would not refute that there are seemingly endless obstacles to passage of such a bill, but he says President Obama remains committed to backing immigration reform.

"We have a broken system," said Crowley, "and to do nothing is not an option."

Like health care reform, Crowley and his co-sponsors maintain that immigration reform requires challenging upfront investment but that it comes with long-term economic gains.

The amnesty portion of the bill, he said, would require those wishing to legalize their status, "to go to the back, not the front of the line."

Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham are working to formulate a more centrist approach to immigration reform that could receive more bi-partisan support, but it will not be rolled out until after February of next year. The Senate version is expected to also contain relief for illegal aliens living in the U.S. so as to regularize their status.

But the hill will be a steep one in both houses of Congress.

"The president will want to focus on jobs around the State of the Union, not immigration," a Senate leadership staff member told the Echo.

"There's not a snow ball's chance in hell" that immigration reform will be taken up in the Senate before February and will more likely be pushed towards the end of next year - if at all," the staffer said.

Nevertheless, Rep. Crowley said there was a moral imperative as well as sound financial foundations for bringing illegals in from the shadow economy, have them pay taxes and become visible and accountable.

"This isn't a Latino issue, or an Asian issue, or an Irish issue, but an issue for anyone in the U.S. who wants to ensure national security," he said.

President Obama committed earlier this year to "starting" the conversation on immigration reform. Congressional Democrats and President Obama have spread their political capital very thinly in 2009, and even Crowley would not respond directly when asked if he thought immigration regulations could be reformed by the end of 2010.

The President has not spoken directly about immigration reform issues in months. The secretaries of labor and commerce will address the issue this week, and Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, recently testified in the Senate Judiciary hearing endorsing moving forward on an amnesty provision.

"We must seize this moment to build a truly effective immigration system that deters illegal immigration, provides effective and enduring enforcement tools, protects workers from exploitation and retaliation, and creates a tough but fair path to legalization for the millions of illegal immigrants already here," she said.

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