Originally Published: The Hill, September 2, 2013
Originally Published: The Hill, September 2, 2013
Originally Published: September 2, 2013, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — As Congress wrestles with immigration legislation, a central question is whether the 11 million immigrants already in the United States illegally should get a path to citizenship.
The answer from a small but growing number of House Republicans is “yes,” just as long as it’s not the “special” path advocated by Democrats and passed by the Senate.
“There should be a pathway to citizenship — not a special pathway and not no pathway,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told ABC 4 Utah after speaking at a recent town hall meeting in his district. “But there has to be a legal, lawful way to go through this process that works, and right now it doesn’t.”
Many House Republicans said people who illegally crossed the border or overstayed their visas should not be rewarded with a special, tailor-made solution that awards them a prize of American citizenship, especially when millions are waiting in line to attempt the process through current legal channels.
It’s far from clear, however, what a path to citizenship that’s not a special path to citizenship might look like, or how many people it might help.
The phrase means different things to different people, and a large number of House Republicans oppose any approach that results in citizenship for people now in the country illegally. Some lawmakers said such immigrants should be permitted to attain legal-worker status, but stop there and never progress to citizenship. That’s a solution Democrats reject.
Nonetheless, advocates searching for a way ahead on one of President Barack Obama’s second-term priorities see in the “no special path to citizenship” formulation the potential for compromise.
“I think there’s a lot of space there,” said Clarissa Martinez, director of civic engagement and immigration at the National Council of La Raza. “And that’s why I’m optimistic that once they start grappling more with details, that’s when things start getting more real.”
Once Congress returns from its summer break the week of Sept. 9, the focus will be on the GOP-led House. The Democratic-controlled Senate in June passed a far-reaching bill that includes a big, new investment in border security and remakes the system for legal immigration system, in addition to creating a 13-year path to citizenship for those already here illegally.
House Republicans have rejected the Senate approach, promising to proceed instead with narrowly focused bills, starting with border security. No action is expected on the House floor until late fall, at earliest, because of pressing fiscal deadlines that must be dealt with first.
The timing crunch, along with the significant policy and process disagreements, has left some supporters pessimistic about the future of immigration legislation. They find hope, however, in some recent comments from House Republicans around the country suggesting they could support a solution that ends in citizenship at least for some who now lack legal status.
Democrats, some Republicans and most outside immigration advocates are pushing for a relatively straightforward path to citizenship like the one in the Senate.
It imposes certain restrictions, seeks payment of fees, fines and taxes, and requires that prospective immigrants attempting the process legally are dealt with first. Once those criteria are met, most people here illegally could get permanent resident green cards in 10 years, and citizenship in three more. Agriculture workers and immigrants brought to this country as children would have a quicker path.
That approach is rejected by most House Republicans as a “special” path to citizenship.
“It’s not a bill I can support,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said at a Verona, Va., town hall meeting recently. “We think a legal status in the United States, but not a special pathway to citizenship, might be appropriate.”
Goodlatte has said that after attaining legal status, immigrants could potentially use the existing avenues toward naturalization, such as family or employment ties.
He and others also argue that many immigrants would be satisfied with legalization alone, without getting citizenship. That’s something many advocates dispute, though studies show that a significant number of immigrants who are eligible for citizenship haven’t taken that step — about 40 percent in a Pew Hispanic Center study in February.
Goodlatte has not provided much detail on how he foresees immigrants moving through existing channels from legalization to citizenship. Depending on its design, such an approach could touch anywhere from hundreds of thousands to many millions of the 11 million people here illegally. So if House Republicans end up taking that approach, how they craft it would help determine whether Democrats and the advocacy groups could go along.
For now, advocates said that making immigrants here illegally go through the existing system would help relatively few of them.
Current law says that if you’ve been in the country illegally for more than a year, you have to return to your home country for 10 years before you can re-enter legally, which would likely dissuade many people.
Moreover, existing family sponsorship channels are badly backlogged, and many are capped. People applying for citizenship through their siblings face waits of more than 20 years in some cases, for example. On the employment side, existing visa programs are difficult to use and inadequate to meet demand, and also face long backlogs.
Waiving the requirement for people to exit the country and adding visas to reduce backlogs could take in a substantial number of the 11 million here illegally, arguably without being a “special” pathway, advocates said.
It’s a long shot, but the result could be an immigration deal between the House and the Senate, and a bill for Obama to sign.
“If the House wants to dis the Senate bill and come up with their own approach to the 11 million that has no special pathway to citizenship, we would be happy to work with them on a way that would meet with our bottom line, which is an inclusive, immediate path to legal status for the 11 million, and an achievable and clear path to eventual citizenship,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigrant group. “They can preserve the sound bite and we can have the policies that we want.”
Originally Published, The Hill, September 2, 2013
The shift in tactics comes as some leaders in the movement are voicing frustration that the more narrowly tailored activities used during the August recess have failed to maximize pressure on House Republican leaders to take up immigration legislation.
“I say that one of the problems we have is that Congress isn’t hearing enough from the American people, that we’re using too many sophisticated methods of communication,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) told reporters earlier this week. “We’re buying ads there, and radio ads there, and hiring this lobbyist there. We need people power, and we need to concentrate.”
A series of demonstrations and rallies are planned for major cities on Oct. 5, ahead of a march in Washington on Oct. 8, Gutiérrez said. He said organizers hoped to attract 15,000 people in the capital to pressure Congress.
With budget and debt-ceiling debates expected to dominate an abbreviated legislative calendar in September, immigration reform isn’t likely to come to the House floor until October, lawmakers and aides have said.
Even then, advocates may have difficulty sustaining momentum for the issue, particularly if the fiscal fights drag out through the fall.
Immigration reform advocates defended their strategy for August, saying their goal was to “outgun” the movement’s opponents and generate headlines in local rather than national press.
“It’s been not huge marches on Washington, but those have been happening on Main Street, in key districts around the country,” said Jeremy Robbins, director of the Partnership for a New American Economy, the group pushing for immigration reform backed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “And that’s something we’re very proud and optimistic with how that’s gone.”
“You do have to lobby,” said Tom Snyder, who is managing the AFL-CIO’s campaign for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.
The August plan, Snyder said in an interview, was for a “massive number of events in Republican districts, not necessarily huge rallies.”
“We’re planning to escalate the pressure in September, October and November,” he said. “We’re executing a plan that we made some time ago.”
Opponents of comprehensive immigration reform said the relative lack of major activity in August was due to the slim chance that the House would actually consider legislation similar to the bill that passed the Senate in June. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said the House won’t vote on that measure and that any immigration proposal must gain the support of a majority of the Republican conference.
“As long as that’s the case, there’s not this great sense of looming danger out there,” said Roy Beck, executive director of Numbers USA, which opposes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Beck voiced doubt that any plans for large rallies by reform advocates would alter the political dynamic. “I thought that was what they were planning for August. It sounds like more of the same,” he said. “I don’t see how more political theater is going to make a difference.”
The tens of thousands of people who gathered Wednesday in front of the Capitol to rally for comprehensive immigration reform had two clear messages for Congress: reform must include a direct path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States, and “The Time Is Now.”
While there are many issues at stake, the genius of the movement is that it has not been designed to be about “one person, or group or ethnicity,” but rather about the greater whole.
As the rally filled the Capitol’s west lawn, a bipartisan group of senators worked furiously on final negotiations on the comprehensive immigration reform bill that should be introduced early next week, according to news reports. “We are writing the bill as we speak,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who is a member of the Senate’s Gang of Eight. The Los Angeles Timesreports that the bill’s first draft is about 1,000 pages, but not all senators have signed off on every section, with provisions related to agricultural workers and border security still being worked out. Yet they are close, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) said after a briefing yesterday. “We are closer now than we have been in 25 years for serious immigration reform,” he said. “This president is behind it. And there is a strong, growing bipartisan effort in the Senate to support it. We hope that the House will do the same.”
While those at the rally had a clear message, they did not speak with a single voice. Attendees came from across the country and represented a range of groups, both old and new members of a growing coalition in support of immigration reform. Busloads of supporters came from states as far away as Michigan, Florida, and Alabama. Participants wore colorful t-shirts and carried the banners of labor unions, women’s and business groups, Latino, Asian and African coalitions, as well as LGBT organizations.
As an NPR report analyzing the immigration reform movement put it, the movement’s success may very well lie in how “decentralized” it is. While there are many issues at stake, the genius of the movement is that it has not been designed to be about “one person, or group or ethnicity,” but rather about the greater whole. And as one rally participant interviewed for the NPR piece put it when asked who the leader of the movement was, she replied, without hesitation, “the people.”
The wide range of issues at stake in immigration reform also explains why it has been so hard to get a comprehensive bill and why these bills end up being 1,000 pages long. The interlocking puzzle pieces of immigration reform are tricky, and it is critical to put them together right. One issue cannot be addressed without impacting others and all of them must ultimately work together seamlessly. That is why this bill has taken so long to produce and why negotiations can be tricky. So as the Senate hammered out the final details, the rally participants showed their support and appreciation for the bipartisan work being done, while continuing to apply pressure on lawmakers to get it done as quickly as possible and not to forget any of them in the process.
WASHINGTON — President Obama plans to push Congress to move quickly in the coming months on an ambitious overhaul of the immigration system that would include a path to citizenship for most of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, senior administration officials and lawmakers said last week.
Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats will propose the changes in one comprehensive bill, the officials said, resisting efforts by some Republicans to break the overhaul into smaller pieces — separately addressing young illegal immigrants, migrant farmworkers or highly skilled foreigners — which might be easier for reluctant members of their party to accept.
The president and Democrats will also oppose measures that do not allow immigrants who gain legal status to become American citizens one day, the officials said.
Even while Mr. Obama has been focused on fiscal negotiations and gun control, overhauling immigration remains a priority for him this year, White House officials said. Top officials there have been quietly working on a broad proposal. Mr. Obama and lawmakers from both parties believe that the early months of his second term offer the best prospects for passing substantial legislation on the issue.
Mr. Obama is expected to lay out his plan in the coming weeks, perhaps in his State of the Union address early next month, administration officials said. The White House will argue that its solution for illegal immigrants is not an amnesty, as many critics insist, because it would include fines, the payment of back taxes and other hurdles for illegal immigrants who would obtain legal status, the officials said.
The president’s plan would also impose nationwide verification of legal status for all newly hired workers; add visas to relieve backlogs and allow highly skilled immigrants to stay; and create some form of guest-worker program to bring in low-wage immigrants in the future.
A bipartisan group of senators has also been meeting to write a comprehensive bill, with the goal of introducing legislation as early as March and holding a vote in the Senate before August. As a sign of the keen interest in starting action on immigration, White House officials and Democratic leaders in the Senate have been negotiating over which of them will first introduce a bill, Senate aides said.
“This is so important now to both parties that neither the fiscal cliff nor guns will get in the way,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, a Democrat who is a leader of the bipartisan discussions.
A similar attempt at bipartisan legislation early in Mr. Obama’s first term collapsed amid political divisions fueled by surging public wrath over illegal immigration in many states. But both supporters and opponents say conditions are significantly different now.
Memories of the results of the November election are still fresh here. Latinos, the nation’s fastest-growing electorate, turned out in record numbers and cast 71 percent of their ballots for Mr. Obama. Many Latinos said they were put off by Republicans’ harsh language and policies against illegal immigrants.
After the election, a host of Republicans, starting with Speaker John A. Boehner, said it was time for the party to find a more positive, practical approach to immigration. Many party leaders say electoral demographics are compelling them to move beyond policies based only on tough enforcement.
Supporters of comprehensive changes say that the elections were nothing less than a mandate in their favor, and that they are still optimistic that Mr. Obama is prepared to lead the fight.
“Republicans must demonstrate a reasoned approach to start to rebuild their relationship with Latino voters,” said Clarissa Martinez de Castro, the director of immigration policy at the National Council of La Raza, a Latino organization. “Democrats must demonstrate they can deliver on a promise.”
Since the election, Mr. Obama has repeatedly pledged to act on immigration this year. In his weekly radio address on Saturday, he again referred to the urgency of fixing the immigration system, saying it was one of the “difficult missions” the country must take on.
Parallel to the White House effort, Mr. Schumer and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican, have been meeting with a group of at least four other colleagues to write a bill. Republicans who have participated include John McCain of Arizona, who has supported comprehensive legislation in the past; Jeff Flake, also of Arizona, who is newly elected to the Senate; and Mike Lee of Utah. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida participated in one meeting last month.
Democrats in the meetings include Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat; Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado.
Basic tenets for the bill, Mr. Schumer said, were that it would be comprehensive and would offer eventual citizenship for illegal immigrants who follow a prolonged process to correct their status.
“This is a bottom line,” Mr. Schumer said in an interview on Thursday. “The Democrats have made it clear we will not accept a bill without a direct path to earned citizenship.” He said senators from both parties had been “pleasantly surprised” at how rapidly the talks had proceeded.
Mr. Rubio, a Cuban-American who has emerged as a star in his party, is making immigration one of his primary issues. He has advocated taking changes in pieces, arguing that lawmakers will get better results if the politically and practically tangled problems of the immigration system are handled separately.
Mr. Rubio has been preparing a bill that would provide legal status specifically for young illegal immigrants, known as Dreamers, who came to the United States as children.
Mr. Rubio said Thursday that the piecemeal approach was “not a line in the sand” for him. But he said he would insist that any legalization measure should not be unfair to immigrants who played by the rules and applied to become residents through legal channels.
His proposals would allow illegal immigrants to gain temporary status so that they could remain in the country and work. Then they would be sent to the back of the line in the existing system to apply to become permanent residents, without any special path to citizenship.
Mr. Rubio said he hoped to rally Republicans to support changes. Speaking of Latinos, he said, “We are going to have a struggle speaking to a whole segment of the population about our principles of limited government and free enterprise if they think we don’t want them here.”
In the Republican-controlled House, the future of a comprehensive bill remains unclear.
Representative Phil Gingrey, a Georgia Republican who follows immigration issues, said he remained opposed to “amnesty of any kind.”
He said that the Obama administration had been lax on enforcement, and that he would “continue working to secure our borders and enforce existing immigration law.”
But groups backing the overhaul say they are bigger and better organized than in the past. Last month, the labor movement, including the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and other sometimes-warring factions, affirmed a common strategy. Last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it would work with labor, Latino and church organizations to pass the overhaul this year.