Earlier this week, top advocates of immigration reform met at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the National Democrat Network (NDN), a center-left think tank, to discuss the prospects of getting a bill through Congress by year's end. "The fundamentals are stronger than at any time during the last ten years," Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA, told the audience. "[Immigration reform] is a plane on the runway ready to take off." Skeptics might counter that the jet has been sitting on the tarmac for months. In early June, House Speaker John Boehner said immigration reform was set to see the president’s desk by the end of the summer. The White House said the same thing. The Senate passed an omnibus bill in July, but August recess came and went without legislation getting through the House. Now, with the looming budget battle soaking up the Beltway’s oxygen, it seems House Republicans intend to slow-walk the bill to death.
House Republicans' latest excuse for not passing immigration reform—that the congressional calendar is too stuffed with shutdowns and Syria dilemmas—is pretty silly. First, the debt ceiling hasn’t dropped into the fall session unceremoniously from the sky—this is an annual responsibility they knew would return since the last hellish time they raised our borrowing limit. Second, there’s absolutely nothing stopping the House from passing immigration reform ASAP. In a single day, Republican legislators could bring the Senate immigration bill for a floor vote in the House, where conventional wisdom says it has the votes to pass. "This is no longer a debate about policy. We've had ten years of debate," says Muzaffar Chishti, director of the New York office of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. "Every element of the policy discussion has been held and held repeatedly."
It was like watching the Grinch's heart grow three sizes on Christmas. Representative Bob Goodlatte was talking about giving citizenship to "Dreamers," young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. "These children came here through no fault of their own and many of them know no other home than the United States," the Virginia Republican said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing shortly before August recess. It was a sharp about-face: Three weeks earlier, Goodlatte and other Republicans on the committee had voted to defund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the Obama administration’s initiative to stop the steady deportation of Dreamers. Now he and his colleagues were talking about making these youngsters, people who had known no country but the United States, citizens.
Yesterday's House Judiciary Committee hearing was supposed to focus on the plight of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children—referred to as "DREAMers." But it inevitably turned to the question at the heart of the immigration-reform battle: what to do with their parents. While members of the committee expressed support across the board for granting citizenship to DREAMers—at least those, in the words of Representative Steve King, who aren't gang members or drug-runners—its more conservative members expressed reservations about where this would lead. "Is this being set up as background amnesty?” asked King. “Who do you enforce the law against if everyone who hasn’t committed a felony is legalized?" The Iowa Republican, following the "secure the border" drumbeat that's become a fixed feature at such hearings, also assailed the Obama administration for failing to enforce immigration law. "Parents bringing their young children to the U.S. illegally is not something we would want to encourage," said Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia and the committee chairman.
An immigrant inspects her new green card. (Flickr/Daniel Hoherd)
Greg Sargent gets the skinny from a House aide about a potential new immigration proposal in that body, which would include some new triggers and deadlines, but what caught my eye was this part:
The new plan would take the provisional legal status and right to work granted to the undocumented at the outset and reconfigure it as "probation." The plan would require undocumented immigrants to admit having broken U.S. laws and admit guilt (in a civil sense), and enter into a probationary phase, during which they’d have very similar legal rights to the ones they would have under the provisional legal status in the Senate bill.
This concession is designed to help Republicans embrace comprehensive reform. It is meant to give Republicans a response to the charge of "amnesty" — the claim that a path to citizenship will reward lawbreakers — by instead requiring the undocumented to take themselves out of the shadows, admit wrongdoing, and put themselves on a species of probation.
When the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its analysis of the Gang of Eight's immigration bill Tuesday—which showed the legislation would cut the deficit by $197 billion over the next 10 years and by $700 billion over the next 20 thanks to tax revenue from increased economic activity—its opponents pounced. “If there’s one thing Washington knows how to do, it’s to come up with bogus cost estimates,” Texas senator Ted Cruz told right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who like Cruz sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee and has been a staunch opponent of the bill, assailed the agency for failing to account for spending past the first 10 years (the agency typically does not conduct detailed cost projections past 10 years given the difficulty of doing so accurately).
Marco Rubio wants immigrants to learn English—and fast. Last week, the Florida Senator introduced an amendment to the Gang of Eight's immigration bill, currently being debated on the floor of the Senate, that would require undocumented immigrants to demonstrate English proficiency before becoming legal permanent residents. Current law already requires English proficiency for naturalization, but the proposal would impose the requirement just to obtain a green card. "I just truly believe that as part of any successful immigration reform, you have to have assimilation," Rubio said in explaining the purpose of the amendment. "And one of the quickest ways for people to assimilate into our culture and into our society is to speak the unifying language of our country, which is English." Rubio says his amendment closes a "loophole" in the bill, which only requires the undocumented to demonstrate they are enrolled in a government-approved English course to become legal permanent residents. A vote on the amendment is expected in the next few weeks.
As Sen. Rand Paul delivered his keynote speech on immigration reform at yesterday's gathering of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, anxieties about the GOP’s identity crisis rippled through the room. The likely 2016 presidential hopeful spoke briefly in Spanish before discussing his Christian faith and opposition to abortion. He assured his audience he got them: “Man’s humanity to man is how we will be judged,” he said.
You can attribute some of the success of the current immigration bill to President Obama’s absence from the debate. A large number of Republicans are simply unable or unwilling to support a proposal that has Obama’s name attached. By stepping away from the process and leaving it to Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the Senate, Obama set the stage for cooperation and allowed a chance for success—a permission structure, as it were.
At a time when the backlog of cases before the courts has reached staggering proportions, Republicans on the House immigration working group have come up with a proposal to lengthen judicial waits beyond all imaginable horizons.
Shortly after Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev detonated bombs near the finish line at the Boston marathon, killing 3 people and injuring over 200, conservatives opposed to immigration reform began exploiting the tragedy. Their goal? Derailing or delaying the 844-page Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. The bombings cast a pall over hearings on the immigration bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, where Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano fielded questions about the asylum process used by the boys' family to enter the country. Questions were also posed about the Department of Homeland Security's entry-exit system, which tracked the older of the two brothers' six-month trip to Russia, but not his re-entry.
Wednesday's release of the Gang of Eight's 844-page immigration-reform bill has taken a backseat to the coverage of the Boston bombings, currently hurtling toward a tense denouement. Immigration-advocacy organizations pushed back their press calls, and the senators behind the bill cancelled their press conference altogether. But the bill represents a sea change in the way the United States handles immigration. With a wide path to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country and a major overhaul of the family- and employment-based immigration systems, it is a decisive shift away from the economic protectionism and anti-immigrant vitriol of the 2007-2008 immigration debate.
The chances for real, comprehensive immigration reform to be passed through both houses of Congress and signed by the president, the first such reform in decades, now look greater than ever. This is in no small part because the issue has split conservatives, meaning there will be no united Republican front against it. Republican leaders are eager to show Latino voters that they aren't hostile to them, even as the powerful Heritage Foundation mounts a campaign against reform (their current charge is that reform will be too expensive). Big change on election night, he says, was that the people opposed to legal immigration lost. The Steve Kings and so on aren't even part of this discussion. "I'm in favor of legal immigration, I'm just opposed to illegal immigration" has long been a Republican talking point; it's at last becoming a reality, as the forces within the GOP who are most opposed to any kind of reform that doesn't involve higher fences are becoming marginalized. Even the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO are working together to press for their own version of immigration reform, and each house of Congress has its own bipartisan "gang" feverishly negotiating something a majority of lawmakers can support.
The Associated Press, whose stylebook is used by lots of different publications, has announced that it will no longer use the term "illegal immigrant." This essentially accepts the argument that advocates for immigrants have been making for some time, namely that the fact that someone immigrated illegally doesn't make them an illegal person, any more than the fact that you got a speeding ticket means you should be labelled an "illegal driver," despite your violation of the law. Unsurprisingly, conservatives were contemptuous of the AP.