usConventional wisdom has it that immigration is one area of agreement between the president and the new Democratic-led House. But even supporters say it won’t be an easy deal.

[kennedy]
Kennedy

Mr. Bush and Senate Democrats have been in sync on immigration, calling for a “comprehensive approach” that included a guest worker program, increased border security and an avenue for the 11.5 million illegal immigrants to gain legal status. Most Senate supporters of that bill will be returning to office in January, and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.), a key promoter, is expected to head the Senate Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee.

But Democrats are almost as divided on immigration as Republicans are, and some ran on promises to step up border enforcement against illegal immigration—making it tough now to work for legalization, says Steve Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports better enforcement and lower legal immigration.

John Gay, who heads a coalition of employers’ groups, says that senators may even be feeling some “buyer’s remorse” over their immigration votes, and may not be so willing to pass another bill if they know that there’s now a chance of passage in the House.

House Democrats may also want to keep their distance. A House bill would need bi-partisan votes to pass. But both parties are “spooked” by immigration, says Frank Sharry of the Immigration Forum, which lobbies for immigration reform. “The last thing they want to do is expose themselves” on such an emotion-charged issue, he says. –June Kronholz

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