Rubio throwing support behind bipartisan immigration bill

Posted on by Ruby Powers in citizenship, immigration bill, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

Rubio throwing support behind bipartisan immigration bill

By Vincent Bzdek, Updated: 

Look for Marco Rubio to throw his full support — and star power — behind the bipartisan immigration compromise bill that could be announced in the next several days. The question is, will his support for the far-reaching overhaul of the nation’s immigration system alienate the conservative wing of the party and damage Rubio’s chances at higher office, or will it help cement his position as a leading Republican candidate for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination?

According to Politico, the Republican Florida senator is planning to promote the bill on political talk shows starting this weekend, and will reach out to conservative radio hosts and lobby for the plan on Spanish-language news outlets.

One Senate Democratic aide told Politico Thursday: “In poker terms, he has gone all in.”

Members of the so-called bipartisan “Group of Eight” said they are close to finalizing an agreement on the comprehensive proposal that is expected to include a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants and could serve as the template for a deal between Congress and the White House.

The Post’s Paul Kane and David Nakamura reported just a couple days ago that Rubio appeared to be cautious about the proposal, anxious for plenty of hearings on the legislation.

“Senator Rubio has said from the outset that we will not rush this process, and that begins at the committee level,” said Alex Conant, Rubio’s spokesman. “The Judiciary Committee must have plenty of time to debate and improve the bipartisan group’s proposal. . . . Senator Rubio will be requesting that his Senate colleagues arrange multiple public hearings on the immigration bill. We believe that the more public scrutiny this legislation receives, the better it will become.”

It now looks as though Rubio wants to own the process now that he is preparing to sign off on the release of the bill this coming Tuesday. Yet he’s also still pushing for more hearings and a slower pace than Democrats and the White House want.

“Obviously, we’ll be informing the public, and we’ll want everyone to know everything that’s in the bill,” Rubio told Politico. “We want everyone to know as much of what’s in the bill as possible, and we will use every opportunity we have to communicate that.”

Many Republicans are unwilling to back any measure that would put illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship, so Rubio’s strategy carries some risks. Some Republicans have expressed openness to some form of legalization that stops short of a citizenship plan, but such a compromise would draw opposition from many Democrats and immigrant advocates.

His ability to bring conservative Republicans on board will be a real test of his leadership skills in the coming days and weeks.

 

 


Immigration reform- Getting there

Posted on by Ruby Powers in citizenship, Immigration Law, pathway to citizenship Leave a comment

“EVERY major policy issue has been resolved,” declared Charles Schumer, one of eight senators seeking to draft a bipartisan bill to reform America’s immigration system. The “Gang of Eight”, he continued, would unveil their proposal in days; it would putter through the Judiciary Committee this month, and reach the Senate floor in May. “We’re on track,” he concluded, in a television interview this week. If he is right, an issue that has dogged American politics for a generation, left 11m people in limbo and steadily undermined the Republican Party’s prospects, is on the verge of resolution.

Not everyone, even within the Gang of Eight, seems quite so confident. Marco Rubio, the group’s most conservative member, says reports of success “are premature”. At least one element of the bill, a scheme to admit agricultural workers on a temporary basis, has proved especially thorny to negotiate. Many Republicans are still averse to any reprieve for America’s 11m illegal immigrants, despite the dreadful showing this stance earned them among Hispanic voters at last year’s elections. But the momentum in favour of reform is clearly building.

Mr Schumer’s crowing was prompted by a deal on visas for low-skilled workers between the two pressure groups to which the gang had delegated the subject: the AFL-CIO, America’s biggest confederation of trade unions, and the United States Chamber of Commerce, which represents business. Bickering on this topic contributed to the collapse of the last big push for immigration reform, in 2007. This time the two sides have agreed on an elaborate formula which would hand out more visas when the economy is strong and fewer when it is weaker. Businesses would benefit from the admission of as many as 200,000 workers a year when times are good (and as few as 20,000 when they are not). The unions, meanwhile, are pleased with wording intended to prevent an influx of new labour from depressing wages or undermining workers’ rights. The main beneficiaries, naturally, would be the visa recipients, who would be allowed to change jobs and apply for permanent residence after a year—as they cannot do now.

The gang’s bill is expected to boost the number of visas for skilled workers too, especially in high-tech fields, and to make it easier for foreign graduates of American universities to settle in America. The senators are also rewriting the rules on the admission of seasonal farm labourers, a job largely filled by illegal immigrants at the moment, thanks in part to the cumbersomeness of the official scheme. They had hoped to win the approval of both growers’ associations and the United Farm Workers (UFW), the biggest agricultural union. But the two sides are at an impasse. The farmers had wanted to adjust the official formula for setting the guest workers’ wages; the union complained that they were trying to suppress wages in general.

Nonetheless, the dispute is unlikely to derail the bill, because the main concern of both sides is not regulating the future flow of new farm workers, but normalising the status of those who are already in America. The country’s 11m “undocumented” immigrants represent a huge pool of recruits for the unions and new hires for business. Although most of them work, their shadowy status exposes employers to legal penalties and the immigrants themselves to exploitation. The Gang of Eight has agreed that their bill will provide these unfortunates not only with some sort of formal legal status, but also with the chance to become citizens eventually.

Just how arduous that process is will be the main point of contention when the bill is unveiled. Republicans have long resisted anything that smacks of amnesty. Democrats, meanwhile, warn against any requirements that are so onerous as to exclude large numbers of the undocumented. The Gang of Eight has already agreed that most illegal immigrants will have to prove that they have worked, pay back taxes and pass both a background check and a test of civics and English, among other requirements, before they can become permanent residents and, eventually, citizens.

The path to citizenship can be long, argues Angela Kelley of the Centre for American Progress, a left-leaning think-tank, as long as it is wide. Many immigrants would struggle to prove their employment history, she notes, since those who hire them are breaking the law and thus tend to avoid much of a paper trail. By the same token, fees or fines that might seem lenient to a middle-class Republican primary voter would be unaffordable for many illegal immigrants. $10,000, for example, would represent over a third of annual household income for half of those in America illegally, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a pro-immigration think-tank.

Another issue bound to provoke debate in the Senate is the policing of America’s borders. The Gang of Eight has agreed that security must get tighter before any illegals can receive green cards (the document conveying permanent residence), to prevent a wave of new immigrants seeking to exploit the reforms. In fact, security on the Mexican border is already fearsome, and unauthorised crossings are at their lowest levels in decades (although the weak economy on the northern side and declining birth rates on the southern one also play a part). Moreover, it is impossible to seal such a long and rugged frontier completely. That leaves Democrats fearful that Republicans will set an unreasonable standard, and Republicans suspicious of a Democratic fudge. A possible solution, suggests Ms Kelley, is to set objective goals, in terms of miles of fencing built, numbers of border-patrol agents deployed, and so on.

Immigration advocates seem confident that these hurdles will be overcome, because the political logic in favour of a deal is so strong. They point to the many Republicans who have moderated their opposition to immigration reform since the elections. Rand Paul, a libertarian senator with a big tea-party following, recently made positive noises. Eric Cantor, the number two in the Republican hierarchy in the House of Representatives, has dropped his opposition to a scheme to give green cards to certain illegal immigrants brought to America as children. The involvement of Mr Rubio, another darling of the tea party, gives the initiative credibility on the right. It is telling that opponents of reform have taken to complaining less about the substance of the proposals and more about the haste with which they are being pursued.

The overwhelming majority of the Senate’s 53 Democrats and two independents are expected to support the reforms, leaving only a handful of Republican votes needed to reach the 60 vote threshold to overcome a filibuster. At the very least, the four Republican members of the Gang of Eight are likely to support their own bill, along with a few other moderates. The mechanics in the House are more complicated: its Republican majority includes many fierce opponents of any leniency towards illegal immigrants. But the Republican leadership, says Jeff Hauser of the AFL-CIO, will not want to be seen as sabotaging the reforms. In the end, he predicts, they will allow a vote on any bill the Senate produces, in the expectation that it will pass mainly with Democratic support. Shepherding an immigration bill through Congress may be a daunting task, but snuffing one out is beginning to look more daunting still.


Former INS Chief Talks Politics of Immigration Reform

Posted on by Ruby Powers in citizenship, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, pathway to citizenship Leave a comment

BY: KWAME HOLMAN

The fence that stands on the United States-Mexico border in Naco, Ariz. Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/ The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Doris Meissner sometimes gets accused of taking a pro-Democratic view in her current work as senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, which calls itself an “independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit” analyzer of migration issues worldwide.

But Meissner, a former official in the Clinton administration, ends up talking a lot about politics when the subject is potentially landmark immigration reform legislation now gathering steam in Congress — a plan she said offers more benefits than deficits for the United States.

“This is now an issue of politics. The issues have been out there for a long time. This is an issue of coming to a political meeting of the minds,” Meissner told the NewsHour this week in her office eight blocks from the White House.

The importance of politics in the effort to make fundamental changes to the nation’s immigration policy comes as no surprise to Meissner, whose job it is to understand millions of Latino legal residents and the 11 million undocumented people living in the United States who could gain a path to citizenship under the proposal.

Meissner agrees with the prevailing analysis that Latino voters swung heavily toward President Barack Obama and other Democrats in November in large part because of a perceived anti-immigrant bent of former Gov. Mitt Romney and the Republican Party.

“Those of us working in this field have known for a long time the potential of the Latino vote being a pivotal election-changing vote has always been there,” she said. “But it has been one of those population groups that’s had lower voting rates.”

Polls show that Latino voters were energized by the Democrats’ support for immigration reform and the feeling that Republicans opposed it.

“We’re talking about U.S. citizens. They don’t have a stake in immigration reform in a way that people illegally in the county do, but they do have a stake in immigration reform because they are characterized as bad people in this political fracas, as people who somehow don’t have a right to be here and that has been deeply offensive to Latino voters,” Meissner said.

Meissner — who was commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now Immigration and Custom Enforcement) for most of President Bill Clinton’s two terms — said the actions of Latino voters suddenly turned immigration reform from “an issue that had been a complete third rail into the issue that both parties could come together on.”

And Meissner said the swing toward support for immigration reform extends to traditional Republican constituencies, notably in mid-Western and Southern states that have seen substantial increases in Latino immigrant residents in recent years.

“I think what’s going on now in the Christian right and the evangelical world is extraordinarily influential. Because evangelicals and those churches and pastors have taken up this issue of welcoming the stranger and the values in the Bible that believers should be following. They have really embraced this and they are doing very savvy and sophisticated media campaigns in states around the country that are heavily influenced by the evangelical vote, explaining why immigration reform, why citizenship for people who are in the country illegally is consistent with religious belief and the values of those churches,” said Meissner.

Meissner also notes the states immigrants have moved to have seen decreases in their own native populations, leaving many towns to rely on the new immigrants.

“Let’s look just at the pragmatic side of that, which is that the evangelical movement’s fastest-growing group are immigrants and Latino immigrants. So they’re finding this in their own churches, they’re finding in their own congregations people who do not have legal status. And they’re confronting the hardships that that creates in their church community. That’s powerful,” she said.

But even if the political stars seem to continue to align for immigration reform, Meissner can imagine at least two scenarios that could impede the legislation – governors may balk at the costs of applying legal status to millions of undocumented people, or the sheer size of the undertaking.

“It’s the quintessential devil in the details. The sweep of this kind of a bill is enormous. If a bill like this passes, this is going to be a project for our country for the rest of our lifetimes and beyond. This is [a] very substantial set of changes,” she said. “So any of the particular features of it could — because it then involves so many constituencies, so many political interests — could bring it to unravel.”


President Obama: Get immigration reform done by summer

Posted on by Ruby Powers in immigration bill, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform Leave a comment
President Obama: Get immigration reform done by summer
By: Jennifer Epstein
January 30, 2013 06:52 PM EST
President Barack Obama hopes to see Congress to pass a major immigration reform bill by early summer, he said Wednesday, as he blamed resistance on Capitol Hill for the failure to get the reforms done during his first term.

“I’m not a king,” he told Telemundo, as he followed up on his Tuesday trip to Las Vegas to unveil his proposals for reform with interviews with Spanish-language television networks. “You know, my job as the head of the executive branch ultimately is to carry out the law. And, you know, when it comes to enforcement of our immigration laws we’ve got some discretion. We can prioritize what we do. But we can’t simply ignore the law.”

Obama took executive action last year to change the federal enforcement of immigration laws, helping young adults avoid deportation if serving in the military or pursuing higher education.

He said he would push for legislation to make further changes. Though he’s left it to Congress to work out the details, the president said the White House has already written its own that he’ll send for an up or down vote if lawmakers are too slow.

“I’ve got a bill drafted. We’ve got language,” he said.

But he said that he hoped Congress would not force things to come to that.

“I think this is something we should be able to get done certainly this year and I’d like to see if we could get it done sooner, in the first half of the year if possible,” Obama said.

In an interview with Univision also taped Wednesday, Obama said he’s confident that immigration reform will pass before the end of the year. “Si, se puede,” he said at the prompting of interviewer Maria Elena Salinas, repurposing the slogan used by farm workers that was then turned into the English-language rallying cry for his 2008 campaign as “Yes we can.”

What’s still holding back action “is not so much technical as it’s political,” Obama said in his interview with Telemundo, which was conducted by Jose Diaz-Balart. “It’s a matter of Republicans and Democrats coming together and finding a meeting of the minds and then making the case. I’m hopeful that this can get done, and I don’t think that it should take many, many months.”

Diaz-Balart said he’d checked with the offices of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and other Republicans supportive of the immigration reform proposal put out by a bipartisan group of eight senators on Monday, and that none of them reported having heard from Obama on the issue.

Obama said he was open to talking to anyone, but indicated that the outreach had to come from Capitol Hill. “I am happy to meet with anybody, anytime, anywhere to make sure that this thing happens,” he said. “You know, the truth is oftentimes what happens is members of Congress prefer meeting among themselves to build trust between Democrats and Republicans there.”

“They want assistance from us but sometimes they want it through back channels,” he added. “And, you know, if they want a public meeting, if they want private meetings, anything that is necessary to move this thing forward, we’re happy to.”

Some immigrants-rights groups have urged Obama to put a moratorium on all deportations until Congress works through its current reform push. But Obama said it’s his responsibility to continue overseeing the enforcement of existing federal laws.

“There are still going to be stories that are heartbreaking with respect to deportations until we get comprehensive immigration reform,” he said in his interview with Univision. “That’s one of the reasons I think it’s so important for us to go ahead and get this action done.”

Though both interviews focused on Obama’s new push on immigration reform, there were some questions on other issues, including gun control and the gun violence in Chicago that left dead a teenager who performed in Obama’s inaugural parade barely a week before her murder.

Obama didn’t speak specifically to the Tuesday killing of Nadiya Pendleton, 15, but he did address the rash of gun violence plaguing his hometown of Chicago. The city, where his former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is mayor, has strict gun laws yet high levels of violence. That’s led some pro-gun advocates to argue that gun control laws don’t work.

But Obama said the problem is that the laws aren’t widespread. “The problem is that a huge proportion of those guns come in from outside Chicago,” he told Telemundo. “What is absolutely true is that if you are just creating a bunch of pockets of gun laws without having sort of a unified, integrated system — for example of background checks — then, you know, it’s gonna be a lot harder for an individual community, a single community to protect itself from this kind of gun violence. That’s precisely why we think it’s important for Congress to act.”

Obama listed implementing a universal background check system, limiting the size of magazines and cracking down on gun trafficking as key priorities, but didn’t mention renewing the assault weapons ban, something he’s said he supports. His omission of the ban comes after Vice President Joe Biden left it out during remarks on guns he last week in Virginia.


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