KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The ongoing national debate over immigration reform made its presence felt Saturday night in Kansas City, with Democratic Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver II hosting a town-hall meeting on the topic in the company of a leading voice for reform, Rep. Luis Gutierrez.
In an interview before the meeting began, Cleaver expressed cautious optimism that Congress could pass immigration reform this year.
"We have a lot on our agenda. Immigration should be there. Its going to be a priority," Cleaver said.
"Its going to be difficult. Remember, we have a debt-ceiling date looming in June, and we still have the sequestration issues facing us. We still don't have a farm bill. We don't have a budget," he continued. "I hate to be too optimistic about an immigration deal. If I had my 'druthers, we'd pass an immigration bill today."
While the bill winds its way through Congress, undocumented immigrants in the Kansas City area remain hopeful something will pass -- eventually.
"I'm waiting for like, something. A miracle maybe, or something good," said Brenda, an undocumented hairdresser from Mexico who spoke to 41 Action News on the condition we not use her full name.
The Pew Research Center estimates as many as 55,000 undocumented immigrants may live in Missouri, and 65,000 or more may live in Kansas. Estimates for the Kansas City metro area vary between 15,000 and 30,000, with exact counts impossible.
Regardless of the total count, immigration activists say the time is now to get something done on an issue that has stymied lawmakers for years.
"You can call it amnesty, you can call it Dancing With The Stars. Whatever you want to call it, the truth of the matter is, they're here, they're not going home, and we've got to deal with it" Cleaver said.
Key to that effort may be a man who would make an unlikely ally for the predominantly Democratic proponents of passing a reform law: House Speaker John Boehner.
"There's only one person on planet earth who can bring a vote to the floor in the House. It's Boehner," Cleaver said.
"Speaker Boehner has to make a decision whether or not he will allow an immigration bill to come to the floor and have more Democrats voting for it than Republicans, because if that happens then the argument will be that Republicans still oppose immigration."
That outcome, Cleaver said, would fail to address what he believes is some Republicans' primary reason for lining up for immigration reform now in the first place: catching up in electoral politics, where Democrats dominated the Hispanic vote last November.
" Out of political necessity the open-mindedness has struck all segments of politics," Cleaver said.
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Negotiations on Capitol Hill have yielded a modest budget agreement to ease automatic spending cuts and replace some of them with savings from future-year cuts.