In front of more than 2000 progressive bloggers and activists Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Harry Reid and several other keynote speakers urged progressives to “finish what we’ve started” and keep beating the progressive drum for change. After enumerating major Democratic legislative victories this year (health care, financial regulation, and an economic stimulus plan to name a few), Congressional leaders acknowledged the legislative priorities that lie ahead—especially immigration. While Republicans continue to stall immigration reform efforts in Congress and with harsh anti-immigrant legislation brewing in other states, immigration has emerged as a national hot button issue. And with mid-term elections around the corner, progressives want to know that Democratic leadership is actually going to lead.

At the fifth annual Netroots Nation conference in Las Vegas this weekend, Democratic leadership rallied the progressive voice to keep doing what they’re doing—holding Congress accountable and moving the progressive agenda forward. A large part of that progressive agenda is immigration reform—an issue that many progressives feel the Administration has yet to throw its full weight behind. In a Q&A forum, progressive bloggers and activists held Speaker Pelosi’s and Sen. Reid’s feet to the fire on the immigration front. With Congressional Republicans blocking comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), many wondered about the viability of passing the DREAM Act this year. Here’s what Democratic leadership had to say:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA):

There is a difference of opinion on how we go forward on [the DREAM Act]. We are committed to comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). We don’t want to take one piece and leave the rest of the undocumented behind. We need to secure [the] border, enforce laws, stop the exploitation of workers, and provide a path to legalization. If we take off rosier pieces, it will diminish the prospect for CIR. Others have a different view, but that’s a debate we’re having. Arizona also shouts out for the need for CIR which supports all the things I mentioned. We know what our values are as a country. We continue to meet with business and evangelical communities, not our usual allies, but who both understand the need for CIR. We need to keep the heat on for when the time is right to pass CIR, which will be soon. We’re all cosponsor of DREAM Act, but we don’t want to diminish the support for CIR.

Senator Harry Reid (D-NV):

We’re still working on CIR. We’re not finished after this work period before Congress goes out. We still have a lame duck session, so we’re not giving up. No one has worked harder on immigration then me. I’ve got the stars to show it. We spent more time last session on immigration than any other issue.

Those people screaming the loudest, the Senators from Arizona, won’t let us move on immigration. I believe we need CIR. We need to take care of our borders, get a guest worker program that includes more than just AgJobs, bring people out of the shadows, get right with the law, pay taxes, and get to the end of the line…which for some is thirteen years long. Remember, more than half of these undocumented immigrants have American children. We can’t do what Rush Limbaugh wants us to do. There’s no way we can ship them back to somewhere else. This is not amnesty, it’s fairness.

I’ve worked really hard to push for CIR. I’m working with Durbin and Lugar. But I’m not going to the DREAM Act unless I’ve got the 60 votes. I won’t disappoint all those young men and women if I don’t have the votes. So that’s the story.

So where does that leave us? A dose of political reality is never fun to swallow, but both leaders paint a pretty clear picture of an uphill battle for immigration reform of any kind this fall. The upcoming recess and elections, the lack of votes for CIR, and the questionable number of votes out there for the DREAM Act are all sobering reminders that the work isn’t over. The difficulty of immigration reform is also a strange reminder of just how much Congress has accomplished this year, despite overwhelming obstacles. That Republicans and some Democrats are digging their heels in on immigration could mean that progressives haven’t yet found a way to make this issue click for other political interest groups. Despite more and more involvement by conservatives, evangelicals, and law enforcement officials, immigration remains an issue that doesn’t get a lot of bipartisan support. While progressives may chastise their leaders for not doing enough, it was probably pretty fair of Pelosi and Reid to challenge progressives as well.

Photo by wellsy.