Senate majority leader Harry Reid has promised immigration reform this year.
He told a large crowd at an immigration rally Saturday in Las Vegas that he would start work on a new immigration bill when lawmakers return this week from Easter recess.
There are an estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish who would benefit from a new bill.
“We need to do this this year,” Reid said, We cannot wait.”
Reid's very direct comments were surprising given the uphill nature of the task ahead. A deeply divided Congress has failed to pass any significant immigration legislation since the mid 1980s.
Reid may have personal political considerations though. he faces a tough re-election fight and Latinos make up large numbers in his home state.
“We’re going to pass immigration reform, just as we passed health care reform,” Reid said in a five-minute speech.
There were rallies in seven cities nationwide with the largest in Las Vegas.
Reid told the crowd that he believes he has 56 votes in the Senate to support a new bill . “We need a handful of Republicans,” he said,
He said new legislation would include border security measures and a temporary guest worker program. To get legal status, illegal immigrants would face “a penalty and a fine, people will have to work, stay out of trouble, pay taxes, learn English,” he said. “It’s not so bad, is it?” he asked the crowd.
In Chicago, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the No. 2 leader in the Senate, repeated Reid’s promise to try to enact the overhaul this year. Speaking of the successful battle to health care legislation, Durbin said, “We need that same determination and that same commitment to pass comprehensive immigration reform this year.”
“That is our challenge,” Durbin told the rally in Chicago, “to bring together the Democratic voices as well as good-thinking Republicans to make this a reality of immigration reform. We can do this."
There were also rallies in Seattle, in El Paso, New York City, Philadelphia, and Providence, R.I.