In a sharply worded statement Wednesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said his committee will not make its deadline of considering a comprehensive immigration reform bill by the end of April.  Abandoning hopes for a quick agreement on the issue, Leahy said, “This process will take time.  It will not be easy.”

Directing criticism at the White House, the so-called Gang of 8, and, to a lesser extent, Republicans, Leahy said he has tried to make reform the top priority of the Judiciary Committee.  But no one else has gone along.

“For months I have urged the president to send his proposal for comprehensive immigration reform to the Senate,” Leahy said.  “I understand he has delayed releasing it at the request of a few senators who are engaged in secret, closed door discussions on their own proposal and who committed to completing it by the beginning of March.  That deadline and others have come and gone.”

Noting that Republicans appear more open to considering reform than in years past, Leahy said, “I welcome Republicans to this effort.”  But the problem, Leahy added, is that no one has finished actually writing a bill.  “Without legislative language, there is nothing for the Judiciary Committee to consider this week at our mark up,” Leahy said.  “The upcoming recess period would have allowed all members of the committee and the American people to review the legislation.  Now that process and our work will be delayed at least a month.”

Leahy made clear he is not happy that the Gang of 8 is doing its work in secret.  “I have favored an open and transparent process during which all 18 Senators serving on the Senate Judiciary Committee will have the opportunity to participate and to propose or oppose ideas for reform,” he said.  “The Majority Leader [Sen. Harry Reid] has agreed that we need regular order in the consideration of comprehensive immigration reform.  This process will take time.  It will not be easy.  There will be strongly-held, differing points of view. Because we do not yet have legislative language to debate, the Senate Judiciary Committee will not be able to report a comprehensive immigration bill by the end of April, which was my goal.”

Leahy’s statement came one day after six of the eight Republicans on the Judiciary Committee wrote him a letter urging that consideration of any comprehensive immigration reform proposal be slowed down considerably.  (The other two GOP committee members, Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake, are working with the Gang of 8.)  Now it appears the slowdown is happening, whether Leahy wanted it or not.