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Some Hispanic Lawmakers Blame Rahm Emanuel for Immigration Impasse

Rahm Emanuel

Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. (Reuters Photo)

As President Obama prepares to go to Senate Republicans hat in hand next week with passage of an immigration law overhaul on his wish list, some Hispanic lawmakers in his own party are blaming combative White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel for the slow pace of progress.

"I don't think Rahm Emanuel is a positive influence on the immigration debate," Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill, told the Chicago Fox affiliate. Gutierrez hails from the same state as Emanuel, a former congressional leader. "I don't think he sees it as a core value of the Democratic Party, or a necessity that the American people need to be acted upon."

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., told the Los Angeles Times that he wants immigration to be stripped from Emanuel's portfolio.

"It would make our ability to convince and access decision-makers in the White House a lot easier," Grijalva told the newspaper.

The White House did not respond to an e-mail seeking a response.

The intraparty finger-pointing comes as Obama seeks help from the other side to tackle an issue that he promised on the campaign trail would be a priority for him in his first year in office. But Obama's contentious battle to pass health care overhaul sapped most of his energy in the past year and further polarized the two parties.

Senate Republicans will host Obama at their weekly policy lunch on Tuesday, when the president is expected to appeal to them for help in getting immigration legislation passed.

The urgency was underscored when Arizona passed a controversial law last month stepping up its own role in cracking down on illegal immigrants. The new measure requires police to check the immigration status of people they pull over for other incidents when they are suspected of being in the country illegally.

Critics call it unconstitutional and argue it promotes racial profiling. But supporters disagree, saying Arizona is legally acting on an issue that the federal government has failed to resolve.

Gutierrez introduced a bill late last year that would offer legal status and possibly citizenship to an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants if they're willing to pay a $500 fine, learn English, undergo a criminal background check and prove they have been working. But critics have called it amnesty – an objection that helped torpedo two prior congressional efforts during the Bush era.

Gutierrez's bill is stuck in committee, and the Senate has yet to introduce a companion measure.

Emanuel's relationship with Hispanic lawmakers has been strained for years, going to back to when he was a congressman and head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. At that time, he once called immigration the "third rail" of U.S. politics.

Hispanic lawmakers say Emanuel encouraged Democrats to steer clear of previous efforts to overhaul the immigration system.

Frank Sharry, founder and executive director of America's Voice, a pro-immigration group, told FoxNews.com that Emanuel was a "real problem" during the Bush years when "he was encouraging Democrats to run away from immigration."

But he added that he believes the concern over Emanuel now is "overblown."

"When I talk to people in the White House, I don't get the sense he's the guy laying down in front of the bulldozer saying don't move immigration," he said. "I think they've set other issues at higher priority. It's all health care all the time. All financial reform all the time."

Other Hispanic lawmakers also are downplaying the Emanuel factor.

"The way I view it, the president, as well as members of the administration have to be realistic as to where we are today," Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D-Texas, told FoxNews.com . "And the question is, can we get support from individuals who need to be there when we start pushing legislation."

Gonzalez says he believes Republicans have made a political calculation to oppose immigration overhaul because it will benefit their candidates in November. The only measures he believes they will support are ones that focus on enforcement – measures that he says won't fix the problem because of the illegal immigrants already here.

"Politically speaking, no one wants to come out and say we're for some sort of comprehensive immigration reform," he said. Republicans are "not going to do it because they've painted themselves in the corner with their no amnesty position."

Sharry said the next two weeks may determine whether Congress will pass immigration overhaul this year, starting with Tuesday's meeting, in which he believes Obama can win the support of several Republicans if he ratchets up the pressure.

"The politics of this is clear," he said. "If you want to show independents you're about solving tough problems and not playing politics as usual, immigration is a winner."