Senators hope to approve bipartisan immigration reform within months
By Michael O’Brien, Political Reporter, NBC News
February 7, 2013, 8:44 am NBCNews.com
A bipartisan group of senators formally unveiled an immigration reform framework that they hope the Senate could
pass “in overwhelming and bipartisan fashion” by late spring or early summer.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday on Capitol Hill, five of the eight members of a bipartisan working group
announced the contours of their agreement, which would shore up America’s borders and provide an eventual path to
citizenship for undocumented workers.
“We still have a long way to go, but this bipartisan grouping is a major breakthrough,” New York Sen. Charles
Schumer, a Democratic member of the group of eight, said Monday afternoon.
Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, set an ambitious goal of translating the statement of principles released
Sunday evening by the senators into legislation by March. He said the Senate would try to approve the legislation for
consideration in the House by the end of spring, or early summer.
The major development involves the pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers that would be established
under the Senate plan. Conservatives have resisted similar proposals — even when they were proposed by President
George W. Bush — and labeled them as “amnesty” for individuals who entered the United States illegally.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that Americans “have been too content for too long” to allow many undocumented
workers to provide basic services “while not affording them any of the benefits that make our country so great.”
“It is not beneficial to this country to have these people here, hidden in the shadows,” added McCain, whose own
experience on the issue of immigration provides an instructive example of why immigration reform has been so
elusive for Congress.
McCain had long been one of the most vocal advocates of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers, but
tempered his opinions in recent years amid conservative scrutiny. As he was fighting off a conservative primary
challenger in 2010, McCain appeared in a television ad saying it was time to “build the danged fence” — a reference
to the proposed fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, which is favored by a number of Republicans.
The senators’ announcement on Monday comes a day before President Barack Obama was set to make a major
policy address on Tuesday in Nevada on the topic of immigration. While Obama had not been expected to outline
any formal legislation during his remarks, lawmakers from both parties will carefully parse the president’s words for
their impact on the immigration debate. Schumer said that he had spoken to the president about the Senate
framework, and that the president was “delighted” by it.
Obama himself had vowed to achieve comprehensive immigration reform during his first term, but his efforts were
stymied. That failure invited a degree of consternation from the Latino community during last year’s presidential
campaign, even though Obama had taken executive action to halt the deportation of individuals who were illegally
brought to the United States as children.
(That order, made by Obama last summer, sought to effectively enact much of the DREAM Act, a piece of
legislation that failed in the Senate as recently as 2010, when some Republicans who’d previously supported the law
flipped, and voted against it.)
Indeed, the success of this push in the Senate may well hinge on Republicans’ willingness to go along with a plan
that gives undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, an influential House
Republican, already labeled the Senate framework as “amnesty” in a statement on Monday.
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House GOP leaders were otherwise mum on Monday toward the Senate proposal, though top Republicans have
previously expressed a preference for tackling immigration in a piecemeal manner.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the eight-member group and a favorite of conservatives, has worked to
gather conservative support for the proposal. He said at Monday’s press conference that while no one is happy about
the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally, “We have an obligation and need to address
the reality that we face.”
The other factor weighing upon Republicans involves their poor performance among Hispanic voters — a bloc that is
growing in importance in a variety of key battleground states — during last fall’s election.
“The Republican Party is losing support of our Hispanic citizens,” McCain said Monday in a nod toward a variable
that could convince more GOP lawmakers to support this bipartisan proposal. But, McCain noted, “We’re not going
to get everybody onboard.”
In the meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pledged to “do everything in [his] power as the
majority leader to get a bill across the finish line.”