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Bleak Prospects for Substantive Immigration Debate in 2012

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- As the 2012 presidential candidates prepare their political platforms to pitch to citizens all around the country, can they afford to take a firm stance on the controversial issue of comprehensive immigration reform?

The panel from ABC’s This Week discussed the politics of immigration in the green room after appearing on a special Independence Day weekend edition of the television program.

"No one wants to talk about it," ABC News' George Will said of candidates' desire to discuss immigration reform on the campaign trail. "And if they don't want to, they won't."

Although 2008 Republican Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and, in recent weeks, President Obama seemed reasonably willing to discuss ideas for improving the nation's immigration system, both parties have generally avoided the heated debate.

"The fact is that this is an issue that's a problem for Democrats as well as Republicans," said former chairman of the Republican National Committee Mel Martinez. "Democrats have their constituencies – they don't like certain things about immigration or immigration reform because it impacts the labor movement and others. So this is a bipartisan failure here, not just Republicans."

While many political figures will recognize that the immigration system is in need of reform, few have thus far been willing to lead the charge. With elections looming for representatives, the prevailing view has been that immigration is too volatile to deal with on or near an election year.

Former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public School system Michelle Rhee recounted moments politicians were unwilling to fight for reform in the education system out of fear of losing an election – a concept she says translates the immigration debate.

"I hear this all the time in education that going into an election year, no one is going to take on the tough issues … because you know they have to worry about being in office," she said. "I think we have to change that dynamic, and we have to make sure that there actually is some incentive for politicians to take one the hard issues like education, like immigration, so we know where people stand, and we know where the vision is – and encourage more courage amongst these folks as opposed to just saying we'll deal with it later."

"Michelle, good luck on changing this dynamic," Will responded to Rhee. "The axiom in Washington is you can't do anything in an election year or before an election year, and that's every year."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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