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The president vows to act: But is it too late for immigration reform?

Demonstrators march for comprehensive immigration reform on October 5, 2013 in Los Angeles. President Obama says he wants a renew the push for immigration reform now that the government shutdown has ended. But is it too late?
Demonstrators march for comprehensive immigration reform on October 5, 2013 in Los Angeles. President Obama says he wants a renew the push for immigration reform now that the government shutdown has ended. But is it too late?
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President Obama said this week that with the government shutdown over, he would make a renewed push for immigration reform and that it's a top priority.

But with the year drawing to an end, budget issues that still need to be resolved and the Capitol building full of lawmakers still licking their wounds from the shutdown battle, what are the chances of a compromise on immigration reform this year, or even next?

It depends on who you ask. Some advocates feel encouraged, others less so. And some longtime immigration-watchers are convinced it's time to put that snowball-meets-hell analogy into play.

Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles is among the optimists. The advocacy group has spent years pushing to get a reform plan this far - i.e. a comprehensive bill with a path to citizenship approved by the Senate - and is not about to let go of the prize just yet.

"We're ready to go," Salas said. "We know we have the votes in the House of Representatives, and we know the House works very differently than the Senate. Things move very quickly in the House of Representatives and so we believe, given the time we still have in October and November and December, that we can have a positive vote on reform by the end of this year."

But White House push or not, the climate in the nation's capital has changed in recent months - especially in recent weeks. Republican Rep. Raúl Labrador of Idaho recently said in an interview that Republicans would be hesitant to negotiate with President Obama on immigration after having done battle with him over the shutdown. Fellow Republicans have also been balking at the idea.

"There is very little bandwidth to find common ground," said Mike Madrid, a Republican political strategist in Sacramento. "In an era when we thought partisanship had reached its zenith, this White House and this Congress have shown that they can take it even farther."

The last two times there was a sweeping immigration overhaul, in the mid-1980s and the mid-1960s, there was "a tremendous bipartisan effort that was engendered to get this done," Madrid said. "That is absolutely going to have to be the case, but we are not seeing any sort of effort at bipartisanship from either the White House or the Congress, so to actually get this done, even  in 2014 heading into the midterm elections, is going to be very, very difficult."

Even before the shutdown battle, the ingredients for a successful immigration compromise weren't really there, says UC Riverside political scientist Karthick Ramakrishnan. While the Senate passed a bipartisan bill in June, House GOP leadership had been reluctant to support it, and a bipartisan effort to craft a bill in the House had gone belly-up. By the time the budget crisis began, the immigration debate had already ground to a near-standstill.

"I think it’s not accurate that this was essentially the straw that broke the camel's back," Ramakrishnan said. "The prospects for immigration reform were looking very dicey anyway. The underlying cause is actually the same both for the budget fight and for immigration, where you have Republican legislators who are much more worried about primary challenges than about their general election prospects, and the Latino vote or the immigrant vote." 

And those political worries are only going to increase as the November 2014 midterms draw near, says Louis DeSipio, a professor of political science and Chicano/Latino studies at UC Irvine.

"The problem with the budget issues was they took up a lot of time, and Congress doesn’t have much time left this year before it moves on to other things," DeSipio said, "and probably won't consider immigration reform in an election year."

After January, members of Congress "will be thinking about positioning themselves for the November election this year," he said, and won't consider something as controversial as an immigration overhaul.

The best chance of a renewed push while the Senate bill is still valid through the end of next year might be in the lame-duck session following the 2014 election, November of December of next year. But there will still be budget and other issues to contend with, and "so the problems that Congress has before resolving immigration will still exist in 2014," DeSipio said.

Some immigrant advocates, while still hoping for a legislative fix, have been campaigning to pressure the Obama administration to take an interim step: Extending temporary protection from deportation to a larger group of immigrants than the young people now covered under deferred action. It's a goal that activists have been calling for in a series of recent anti-deportation protests in Arizona and now in California.

Betty Hung of Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles said that she while she's glad Obama wants to revive immigration reform talks, "at the same time, it is well within the president's authority to actually alleviate the  suffering of hundreds of thousands of families who are losing their loved ones to detention and deportation."

President Obama has said that he's not interested in this approach, and that he'll keep pushing Congress for action.