Gridlock is Congress's default position, but every so often the planets align perfectly for legislation to pass. In 2007, that moment came for immigration reform.
There was a bipartisan bill by Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., John McCain, R-Ariz., and others, Democrats controlled Congress, and President George W. Bush was all in favor. Despite this, nothing happened, and Congress hasn't tried seriously to reform the immigration laws since.
Now that immigration reform is back in the news, it is worth looking back at what exactly happened in that last failed effort.
Kennedy and McCain had tried to get a bill going in 2005 and 2006 without much success. Most Republicans were automatically opposed to anything that smacked of amnesty -- like the bill's pathway to legalization for existing immigrants. But in 2007, the Democrats regained control of the House. That meant -- in theory, anyway -- the main obstacle was a GOP Senate filibuster. But a deal arose with the support of several moderate and even conservative Republicans, such as Arizona's Jon Kyl.
It was at this point that many on the Left began to step away. Frank Sharry, who was then executive director of the National Immigration Forum, told The Washington Examiner that although conservative opposition was the biggest stumbling block, there were also "divisions on the Left."
"There was little mobilization in support of the bill," Sharry said. Organized labor was split. The Service Employees International Union favored a deal. But the larger AFL-CIO opposed guest-worker programs, which were expanded in the bill to win Big Business and GOP support. More strikingly, it lost the support of several pro-immigration groups, such as the League of United Latin American Citizens.
"LULAC cannot support a bill that will separate families and lead to the exploitation of immigrant workers," said Executive Director Brent Wilkes in a May 2007 statement. In a June 2007, the American Immigration Lawyers Association said it "cannot support enactment of the Senate bill in its current form," citing no fewer than six major problems.
Bob Sakaniwa, a lobbyist with AILA, told me this week that that didn't mean that his group opposed the bill. But when I asked how and whether his group had urged senators to vote on ending the filibuster, he said, "My memory is hazy on this point."