This weekend Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., shot down prospects for a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the fall, telling constituents that “reform isn’t going to happen this year.” It’s not a surprising statement, but it’s bad news for advocates of comprehensive immigration reform, particularly because Merkley  is working with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on a reform bill.

Facing an electorate that supports at least the idea of immigration reform, but also Republicans who refuse to support it, leading Democrats seem to becoming more pessimistic about prospects for immigration reform this year. Instead, they are attempting to lay the groundwork for a later effort.

After passing a $600 million border security bill earlier this month, Schumer said he hoped the bill could help win over Republican support for comprehensive immigration reform. “This bill is enormously important because it will clear the path for the bipartisan discussions we need to have about our immigration system,” Schumer said at the time.

The question is when that will happen. The White House declined earlier this month to give a timetable for when they would like to see comprehensive immigration reform legislation, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s spokesman has said the effort lacks the votes to proceed. This is a far cry from his statements back in April, when he promised immigration reform this year.

The best bet for reforming the immigration system this year lies with smaller bills, and immigrants rights groups have attempted to push for these measures instead. If this happens, the future of comprehensive immigration reform is still unclear, according to Mary Giovagnoli, director of Immigration Policy Center.

“We don’t have a good measure anymore of what will happen once we get something discreet like the DREAM Act passed,” she says. “But when the sky doesn’t fall in and if people still get reelected after supporting DREAM, it may show members of Congress that leaning into the immigration issue and voting for comprehensive immigration reform could help them politically.”

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