"I think the Dems are on the wrong side of [illegal immigration], and if they continue down this path, they are going to lose a lot of seats."
"This [illegal immigration] issue has real implications for the country. It captures all the American people's anger and frustration not only with immigration, but with the economy," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and an architect of the Democratic congressional victories of 2006. "It's self-evident. This is a big problem."
Republicans, sensing a major vulnerability, have been hammering Democrats, forcing Congress to face the question of illegal immigration on every bill they can find, from agriculture spending and housing assistance to the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
House Democrats are so concerned that they have resumed talks on a new legislative push, even though the collapse of an immigration deal in the Senate this spring has left virtually no chance that a final bill can be passed in this Congress.
But even in the early stages of this renewed effort, negotiations have only underscored the party's problems. Some Democratic leaders want what they call a "mini bill," emphasizing border control, penalties on firms that employ illegal immigrants and stronger efforts to deny illegal immigrants government benefits. But Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), the point man on the bill, said he will never accept a measure that does not include a pathway to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented workers in the country.
The issue has shifted since concerns about illegal immigrants triggered angry calls for border fences and deportation two years ago. Now, voter anger appears to revolve around the belief that illegal immigrants are unfairly consuming government benefits, a fear that stems more from economic uncertainty than culture clashes, Democratic and Republican pollsters say.