Originally Published: The Hill, September 2, 2013
Originally Published: The Hill, September 2, 2013
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.”
Originally Published: The Hill’s Congress Blog, August 30, 2013
Controversy over a path toward citizenship is the most important roadblock to immigration reform.
Many conservatives oppose a path to citizenship because it’s unfair to reward law breakers with citizenship. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Ida.) said, “People that came here illegally knowingly – I don’t think they should have a path to citizenship.” On the political left, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-ll.) said he, “is opposed to proposals that bar citizenship or create a permanent non-citizen underclass.”
To Labrador’s point, the heavy fines, fees and bureaucratic abuses that would prod every legalized immigrant on a path toward citizenship are hardly an award for legal behavior. And to Gutierrez, a legalization status less than citizenship is no more an underclass than the millions of green card or visa holders that currently happily live without becoming citizens.
There is a simple solution to this impasse that could satisfy both camps: Create two paths.
The first path should be toward a permanent work visa where the immigrant cannot apply for citizenship unless he or she serves in the armed forces or marries an American. This visa should be very cheap – hundreds of dollars – and granted quickly after national security, criminal, and health checks.
The second path should be toward a green card and eventual citizenship. This path should be more difficult and expensive, something similar to the Senate’s path to citizenship. Those legalized unauthorized immigrants who want to become citizens should be able to do so.
For unauthorized immigrants uninterested in citizenship, who just want to work and live in the U.S. without fear of deportation, a simple and low-cost path toward a permanent work permit would save them headaches, uncertainty, and cash.
This would definitely be consistent with conservatives like Labrador who say that unauthorized immigrants do not want citizenship. “They’re not clamoring for it,” he said earlier this year. “It’s only the activists here in Washington D.C. who keep clamoring for it.”
If Labrador is right, most unauthorized immigrants would choose a more affordable and easier path toward legalization rather than a more expensive and difficult path toward citizenship – if they were given a choice.
A look at the polls, however, indicates that unauthorized immigrants do want citizenship. In fact, a recent Latino Decisions poll found that 87 percent want to become citizens. But if history is any guide, many of those respondents would choose a cheaper and easier form of legalization if it was offered.
The 1986 Reagan amnesty bill created an affordable and straightforward path to a green card and citizenship. But almost a generation later, only 45 percent of former unauthorized immigrants have naturalized. The 2013 bill would likely produce an even lower rate of naturalization, as the path to citizenship is much more arduous than the Reagan-era bill.
As a general rule, one-size fits all reforms rarely work well. A path to citizenship is not likely to be an exception, although it’s better than the status quo. Allowing a second, simpler path toward a permanent work permit that won’t lead to citizenship will allow otherwise law-abiding unauthorized immigrants, those who will be affected most, to choose their own level of legal status.
Conservatives can say that millions of unauthorized immigrants will be legalized and most won’t choose citizenship, while leftists can say they created a path toward citizenship. Most importantly, the deportations can stop and immigration can be liberalized. All of these sides win.
Left-wing interest groups claim to know what’s best for unauthorized immigrants, which is why many of them are pushing for a path toward citizenship. Conservatives claim that unauthorized immigrants don’t want citizenship, so it shouldn’t even be offered. Instead, there should be at least two paths toward legal status, one with citizenship and one without, and the immigrants themselves should choose which one they want to individually follow.
SOME of the first English words that Mario Rubio learned were “I am looking for work.” A penniless Cuban immigrant, he asked a friend to write them out phonetically on a piece of paper so he could memorise them. He worked hard and eventually became an American citizen. Perhaps his greatest reward was that his children had a better start in life. His son Marco is now a Republican senator.
His family’s story helps illustrate why the immigration reform Senator Rubio backs would increase the sum of human happiness, by freeing more people to pursue it. But like the sea between Cuba and Miami, the route to reform is rough.
On June 27th, by a convincing 68 votes to 32, the Senate passed an immigration bill co-sponsored by Mr Rubio. Now the action moves to the House of Representatives, where its passage is far from certain (see article). The Senate bill passed with support from both parties: all the Democrats voted for it, as did nearly a third of Republicans. House members would probably pass something similar, if allowed. But John Boehner, the Speaker, says he will not allow a vote on any bill unless a “majority of the majority” (ie, a majority of House Republicans) approve of it. That is a steep hurdle.
The Senate bill, were it to become law, would go a long way towards fixing America’s broken immigration system. It would increase the number of visas for skilled workers, grant visas for entrepreneurs and establish a guest-worker programme for manual labourers. It would give the estimated 11m illegal immigrants in America a chance to come in from the shadows: after paying a fine and back taxes, working hard and staying out of trouble, they would eventually be eligible to apply for citizenship. And in a last-minute deal the bill added another $46 billion (up from $8 billion in the original version) to fortify the Mexican border, which is already bristling with fences, armed guards and drones, and to beef up systems for checking that firms do not hire illegal workers. This “border surge” managed to lure in wavering Republican senators. But it is not enough for House Republicans.
Many of them insist on a bill that “secures the border first”. That is, they do not want any of the illegal immigrants now in America to be granted legal status until the border is so militarised that the flow of new ones slows almost to nothing. This would cost a fortune—America already spends more on border security than on all the main federal criminal law-enforcement agencies combined. And it would make only a marginal difference. So long as the supply of legal foreign workers falls far short of demand for their services, people will find a way in. It would be far better, for the immigrants themselves and for America, if they were allowed in legally.
More highly skilled immigrants would make America more innovative. More foreign entrepreneurs would create jobs for the native-born. More young, energetic newcomers would slow the rate at which America is ageing. More immigrants would mean more connections with fast-growing places such as China and India—connections that would accelerate trade and the exchange of ideas. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Senate bill would raise GDP, reduce the budget deficit and slightly increase the wages of the native-born. Countries built on immigration tend to be rich and dynamic: think of Australia, Canada and Singapore.
From “Tear down this wall” to “Build a fence”
Passing immigration reform would also be good for the Republican Party. Granted, to many in the House, it does not seem that way. Many represent districts gerrymandered to be whiter than a starlet’s teeth. For such congressmen, the biggest worry is a primary challenge from a more conservative fellow Republican. Many will doubtless hear, at barbecues over the July 4th weekend, that voters want landmines in the Yuma desert and crocodiles in the Rio Grande. Pandering to such demands will help some Republicans hang on to their seats in 2014.
But if the Grand Old Party wants to retake the Senate or the White House, it cannot afford to alienate ethnic minorities. They will reject a party that rejects them, and they will one day be a majority. Half of the babies born in America today are non-white. By 2060 non-Hispanic whites will be only 43% of the population, predicts the Census Bureau. Long before then, a party that attracts barely a quarter of the Hispanic and Asian vote, as Mitt Romney did, will be incapable of winning national elections. Mr Rubio, who would like to be president one day, understands this. If his party does not, it will be swept aside not by Democrats, but by demography.
It’s beginning to look as though we’re not going to get an immigration reform law this year. House Republicans are moving in a direction that will probably be unacceptable to the Senate majority and the White House. Conservative commentators like my friends Bill Kristol and Rich Lowry are arguing that the status quo is better than the comprehensive approach passed by the Senate. The whole effort is in peril.
This could be a tragedy for the country and political suicide for Republicans, especially because the conservative arguments against the comprehensive approach are not compelling.
After all, the Senate bill fulfills the four biggest conservative objectives. Conservatives say they want economic growth. The Senate immigration bill is the biggest pro-growth item on the agenda today. Based on estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate bill would increase the gross domestic product by 3.3 percent by 2023 and by 5.4 percent by 2033. A separate study by the American Action Forum found that it would increase per capita income by $1,700 after 10 years.
Conservatives say they want to bring down debt. According to government estimates, the Senate bill would reduce federal deficits by up to $850 billion over the next 20 years. The Senate bill reduces the 75-year Social Security fund shortfall by half-a-trillion dollars.
Conservatives say they want to reduce illegal immigration. The Senate bill spends huge amounts of money to secure the border. According to the C.B.O., the bill would reduce illegal immigration by somewhere between 33 percent to 50 percent. True, it would not totally eliminate illegal immigration, but it would do a lot better than current law, which reduces illegal immigration by 0 percent.
Conservatives say they want to avoid a European-style demographic collapse. But without more immigrants, and the higher fertility rates they bring, that is exactly what the U.S. faces. Plus, this bill radically increases the number of high-skilled immigrants. It takes millions of long-term resident families out of the shadows so they can lead more mainstream lives.
These are all gigantic benefits. They are like Himalayan peaks compared with the foothill-size complaints conservatives are lodging.
The first conservative complaint is that, as Kristol and Lowry put it, “the enforcement provisions are riddled with exceptions, loopholes and waivers.” If Obama can waive the parts of Obamacare he finds inconvenient, why won’t he end up waiving a requirement for the use of E-Verify.
There’s some truth to this critique, and maybe the House should pass a version of the Senate bill that has fewer waivers and loopholes. But, at some point, this argument just becomes an excuse to oppose every piece of legislation, ever. All legislation allows the executive branch to have some discretion. It’s always possible to imagine ways in which a law may be distorted in violation of its intent. But if you are going to use that logic to oppose something, you are going to end up opposing tax reform, welfare reform, the Civil Rights Act and everything else.
The second conservative complaint is that the bill would flood the country with more low-skilled workers, driving down wages. This is an argument borrowed from the reactionary left, and it shows. In the first place, the recent research suggests that increased immigration drives down wages far less than expected. Low-skilled immigrants don’t directly compete with the native-born. They do entry-level work, create wealth and push natives into better jobs.
Furthermore, conservatives are not supposed to take a static, protectionist view of economics. They’re not supposed to believe that growth can be created or even preserved if government protects favored groups from competition. Conservatives are supposed to believe in the logic of capitalism; that if you encourage the movement of goods, ideas and people, then you increase dynamism, you increase creative destruction and you end up creating more wealth that improves lives over all.
The final conservative point of opposition is a political one. Republicans should not try to win back lower-middle-class voters with immigration reform; they should do it with a working-class agenda.
This argument would be slightly plausible if Republicans had even a hint of such an agenda, but they don’t. Even then it would fail. Before Asians, Hispanics and all the other groups can be won with economic plans, they need to feel respected and understood by the G.O.P. They need to feel that Republicans respect their ethnic and cultural identity. If Republicans reject immigration reform, that will be a giant sign of disrespect, and nothing else Republicans say will even be heard.
Whether this bill passes or not, this country is heading toward a multiethnic future. Republicans can either shape that future in a conservative direction or, as I’ve tried to argue, they can become the receding roar of a white America that is never coming back.
That’s what’s at stake.
By Frank Thorp, Luke Russert and Carrie Dann, NBC News
Wed Jul 10, 2013 5:54 PM EDT
House Republicans huddled behind closed doors Wednesday in a long-awaited “special conference” to
discuss tactics, air grievances and plot the way forward – or out of – the national debate over
comprehensive immigration reform.
While the “lively” meeting didn’t yield any major breakthroughs among the deeply divided GOP
conference, Republican leaders made clear in a statement afterward that any legislation that gives
too much responsibility to the Obama administration is a non-starter in the House.
The American people “don’t trust a Democratic-controlled Washington, and they’re alarmed by the
president’s ongoing insistence on enacting a single, massive, Obamacare-like bill rather than
pursuing a step-by-step, common-sense approach to actually fix the problem,” leaders wrote after
the meeting. “The president has also demonstrated he is willing to unilaterally delay or ignore
significant portions of laws he himself has signed, raising concerns among Americans that this
administration cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises to secure the border and enforce laws
as part of a single, massive bill like the one passed by the Senate.”
Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas put it more bluntly.
“Trusting Barack Obama with border security is like trusting my daughter with Bill Clinton,” he
said. “We just don’t trust him.”
The gathering served to offer members a spectrum of options for addressing an issue that has long
split the Republican Party and some say could permanently damage its standing with the rapidly
growing bloc of Latino voters.
At the beginning of the meeting, House Speaker John Boehner reiterated that the House will not take
up the “flawed” Senate-passed bill but urged some type of action. And Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the
high-profile former vice presidential nominee who supports the reform effort, presented an economic
argument for immigration legislation and noted the nation’s declining birthrate without the influx
of new residents, sources in the room said.
“I think we got consensus that the system is broken and needs to be fixed and I feel pretty good
about where we are,” Ryan told reporters after the meeting.
But many Republicans from ruby red districts have little incentive to support a reform effort
largely opposed by their conservative constituents. Some fear that any bill could result in
“amnesty” if it is conferenced or blended with the Senate-passed measure.
And even the leaders of the House GOP argue that the Senate bill’s reliance on federal agencies to
enforce border security members won’t sit well with Americans skeptical of the Obama
California Republican Rep. Jeff Denham was one of those in the meeting who advocated for a
comprehensive reform but said the Senate bill gave too much discretion for border security to the
Department of Homeland Security.
“It’s time for action,” he said, according to a participant in the meeting. “We need comprehensive
immigration reform, but we need a guarantee in this. We need to make sure that we are able to
secure the border by using our congressional oversight – not Janet Napolitano, but the power of
One type of immigration action could take the form of legislation to address those who were brought
to the country illegally as children – or DREAMers – who have been among the most organized and
sympathetic advocates for reform.
Rep. Darrell Issa told reporters outside the meeting that members discussed the possibility of
offering a pathway to citizenship for the DREAMer group.
That’s an idea which seems to have measurable “consensus” from the GOP, said Rep. Raul Labrador,
R-Idaho, an influential conservative voice on the immigration issue who left the House’s group of
bipartisan reform negotiators because of disagreements with their approach.
But it seems that any movement is unlikely to happen before the House adjourns for August recess.
Some members are working on individual pieces of border security and visa regulation legislation
that could theoretically be bundled into a package that could pass the GOP-dominated lower chamber but
would likely be dead on arrival in the Senate. Others, mindful of the potential political
consequences of being blamed for the slow death of a bill important to the growing Latino voting
bloc, hope that group of bipartisan negotiators can finalize a product that could find middle
ground between both parties.
And some, like immigration opponent Rep. Steve King of Iowa, have vocally opposed the passage of
any measure at all, saying the conference process in the Senate would insert a pathway to
citizenship for some undocumented immigrants into any House-passed bill.
“I’m not going to support any kind of legalization because legalization is amnesty, is eventual
citizenship, if not instantaneous citizenship,” King told reporters Tuesday, “We don’t have a moral
obligation to solve that problem, the people who came here illegally came here to live in the shadows.
Several things were clear before the GOP gathered for the meeting Wednesday afternoon.
First, House leaders won’t bring up the Senate bill – which one GOP member said almost all members
in the meeting agreed was “inherently flawed” – for an up-or-down vote.
House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp tweeted after the meeting that the House couldn’t take up
the Senate bill if it wanted to because legislation that raises revenues must originate in the
House, according to the Constitution.
And second, the Democratic insistence on its long-held prioritization of a path to citizenship for
most undocumented immigrants is problematic.
Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP Christopher Guitterez, 6, who was born in Fairfax, Va., joins his Salvadoran mother, not in picture, during a rally for citizenship
on Capitol Hill in in Washington, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, coinciding with the GOP House Caucus
meeting. Gang of Eight leader and New York Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that must include a
pathway to citizenship in any House legislation or Democrats will kill it.
That didn’t sit well with GOP rank-and-file.
“For him to him to say basically, ‘If you can’t do my way then we’re not going anything at all,’ I
think would be very sad in the process,” said Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma.
Labrador said earlier Wednesday on MSNBC that the ultimatum means the burden will lie on Democrats
if the legislation stalls. “If Chuck Schumer is not going to accept anything unless he gets 100 percent of what he wants, then
he’s the one who’s killing immigration reform.”
By Beth Fouhy | The Lookout – Tue, Jan 22, 2013
The teenage girl peers into the camera, ready to divulge a secret.
“All my siblings are documented except me,” says the girl, identified onscreen as Cendy. “I know I have a lot of potential but that I might not get there because my status will hold me back.”
Cendy is one of millions of immigrants who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children—a group known as “DREAMers” by advocates of the Dream Act, a federal bill first introduced in the Senate in 2001 to allow them a pathway to permanent residency. To push for passage of the provisions in the Dream Act, Cendy and others agreed to share their stories on www.thedreamisnow.org, a website launched Tuesday by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (“Waiting for Superman” and “An Inconvenient Truth” ) and philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.
The project allows young undocumented immigrants to submit videos describing how their lives would change if the Dream Act were passed. Others can also submit posts, including teachers, relatives and friends of the young immigrants, as well as those involved in developing policy around immigration.
The videos will be posted on the website, and Guggenheim will compile them into a documentary film.
“The documentary becomes a living, breathing petition,” Guggenheim told Yahoo News. “These DREAMers are putting everything on the line. When they come out like this, they are saying, ‘I’m ready to risk it all for what I believe.’”
Immigration reform looms large as a legislative priority for President Barack Obama and for Republicans hoping to improve the party’s status among Hispanic voters.
Powell Jobs told Yahoo News the new project was an effort to harness the momentum around the issue and give visibility to the young people who would benefit from the Dream Act.
“There needed to be a demystification—to put a face to these people, to hear the individual stories,” Powell Jobs said in one of the few interviews she has granted since Steve Jobs’ death in 2011.
Powell Jobs told Yahoo News her interest in the Dream Act had been sparked through College Track, an initiative she founded to help low-income and minority students attend college. Many of the students in the program are undocumented.
“They’re our children’s friends. They are people we know. This is a huge national problem that needs resolution,” Powell Jobs said.
The Dream Act would legalize young people under the age of 30 who entered the U.S. before they were 15 and have lived in the country continuously for five years. To earn legal status and eventually a path to citizenship, applicants would have to prove they have no criminal record and either enlist in the military or attend at least two years of college. (Some versions of the bill would require only a high-school degree for the legal status.)
The Dream Act has been supported by both Republicans and Democrats since its introduction even as the two parties have been sharply divided over other aspects of immigration reform. But the bill has never been enacted—the closest it came was in December 2010, when it passed the House but fell 5 votes short in the Senate of the 60 needed to avert a filibuster.
Despite criticism by some immigration rights activists for a record number of deportations during his administration, Obama took other steps last June to offer young undocumented immigrants some legal protections.
Obama announced a program of “deferred action,” directing his administration to stop deporting those under 30 who came to the U.S. before age 16 and have a high-school diploma or have enlisted in the military. Those who qualify can also apply for a renewable two-year work permit.
“They pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper,” Obama said when he announced the plan in July.
The action did not confer a path to citizenship and was considered only a partial remedy for young immigrants seeking legal status. But it was praised as a step in the right direction by immigration rights activists, even as Republicans claimed it was baldly political and circumvented the legislative process.
After Obama soundly won re-election in November in part by taking 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, Republicans have begun to reassess their position on immigration and, in particular, the provisions of the Dream Act.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants and a GOP rising star, has indicated he will introduce some immigration reform measures that could include expedited legal status for young undocumented immigrants. But Rubio’s earlier proposal to legalize DREAMers did not include a path to citizenship, making it a nonstarter for most immigration rights activists.
Powell Jobs said Rubio’s latest discussion of granting expedited status to young immigrants seemed “reasonable and principled,” but that she wanted to learn more. “The key is to see the legislation once it’s written,” she said.
The young people taping their stories for thedreamisnow.org are unlikely to face legal backlash or deportation because of Obama’s deferred action directive. But they could face other repercussions, like potentially losing their jobs if they don’t yet have work permits.
Cendy, a 16-year-old high-school sophomore from Aurora, Colo., said she was willing to take her chances.
Cendy, who declined to give her last name to Yahoo News to protect her parents, said she agreed to be part of the project in part to dispense with her secret.
“It was a little scary at first,” she said. “But the benefit of coming out, not being afraid anymore, got a lot of weight off my shoulders.”
|By: Manu Raju and Carrie Budoff Brown and Anna Palmer (POLITICO)
April 17, 2013 05:03 AM EDT
|The meeting was supposed to be a half-hour update for immigration reform proponents — but they weren’t about to let the Democratic senators get off that easily.The advocates were furious that Democrats might cave to Republican demands to make the pathway to citizenship contingent upon border security benchmarks, including the sign off of governors from southwestern states. They felt locked out of the process. And now, they had no idea what the negotiators were trading away just weeks before the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill was slated to be publicly released.
Frank Sharry, a longtime proponent of a comprehensive bill, aggressively protested the border language to Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin and Robert Menendez — and as a whole, the group warned that if an anti-reform governor like Arizona’s Jan Brewer were given veto power, the emerging proposal would be a “big problem for us.”
Schumer stayed at the February session an extra 40 minutes, even missing his flight back to New York, to reassure advocates that they weren’t being sold out. But he also advised them to step back in line: “This is what we have to do to get a path to citizenship. You have to understand that.”
The intense back-channel talks between members, staffers and outside groups have produced the most sweeping immigration bill in six years. The legislation comes after weeks of tense member-level meetings — often with powerful special interests they had to keep at bay in order to craft a fragile, bipartisan coalition. The deal required painful compromises, suffered near breakdowns and endured cooling-off periods, including when the group walked away from the negotiating table for part of the Easter recess before re-engaging in the horse trading.
Powerful aides to several senators, particularly to Schumer and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), pieced together a compromise driven as much by trying to get the policy right as by giving the senators a way to sell it politically.
Rubio emerged as a source of constant attention, concern and lobbying within the group. Republicans and Democrats were desperate to keep him in the fold, convinced that they needed his support to sell the proposal to deeply skeptical conservatives.
“By the way, tell your boss he already paid for the caterer, he’s got to go through with the wedding now,” Schumer’s chief aide Leon Fresco, fired off in an email to Rubio’s negotiator, Enrique Gonzalez, when it looked like the Florida Republican was getting wobbly late last month.
President Barack Obama was forced to step in and personally convince Republicans that he was acting in good faith after the apparently inadvertently released draft of a White House bill.
After 24 meetings among senators themselves and marathon sessions between staff for months, the senators struck a deal that, if passed, would enact the most significant changes to immigration laws in nearly three decades. But to get there, they’ve had to cajole their longtime allies to get behind the effort and aggressively move to limit defections from major players who have the power to stop the bill in its tracks. And they went to great lengths to prevent media leaks, even instituting a self-imposed rule to thwart the press from staking out their consequential meetings.
“There is always tense times in these kinds of things,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leader of the group. “But there was always a commitment to get things done.”
This account of the behind-the-scenes drama that culminated Tuesday with the release of a bipartisan bill was drawn from dozens of interviews with key players at the White House and in Congress who were directly involved in the talks.
Nobody would have predicted it a year ago, when the leading Republican presidential candidate was touting “self-deportation” as a solution for dealing with the country’s undocumented population.
But Obama’s 40-percentage-point win among Hispanics changed the dynamic, literally overnight. Top conservative pundits, such as Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, removed a major obstacle when they endorsed a pathway to citizenship. Even Republican Party leaders suggested it was time to take up the issue.
And the major Republican players on immigration, after years of distancing themselves from Democratic proponents of reform, wanted to give it another go.
“We’re getting the band back together,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Schumer in a phone call the weekend after the November election, referring to the 2007 group that worked unsuccessfully for a comprehensive bill. Schumer claimed his heart went “pitter-patter” when he heard McCain would be involved.
And yet, the same circle of negotiators from past reform efforts just wouldn’t do.
The experience from 2007 was seared into memories, studied and analyzed for clues of past mistakes and how proponents could make it right the next time. The politics in 2013 for Republicans supportive of immigration reform were as favorable as they had ever been, diminishing the odds that a fevered, impassioned right wing would scuttle the reform effort before it even started. McCain and Graham knew the issue inside and out, but they lacked gravitas with conservatives.
The group needed a protection policy, and top Democrats and Republicans came up with the same solution: Recruit Rubio.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged Graham and McCain to include Rubio in the talks, while Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) lobbied Rubio at the Senate gym.
The tea party darling and 2016 presidential prospect pushed his own version of the DREAM Act to legalize young undocumented immigrants last year, but like most Republicans, he had his doubts about a comprehensive approach to overhauling the system and favored dealing with the issues one by one.
Durbin told Rubio that a pathway to citizenship needed to be a central part of the talks. If that’s the case, Rubio responded, then tougher border security measures must be part of the plan, and the cost of legalizing 11 million undocumented immigrants needed to undergo a rigorous review as well.
“He said [a pathway to citizenship] would have to be under some pretty strict circumstances, and I said, ‘Let’s talk,’” Durbin recalled on Tuesday.
Thus, they had their first deal — one in a series of concessions, allowances and considerations that Rubio would secure from Democrats and Republicans over the next three months on policy, politics and PR strategy, all with a single-minded goal of keeping him on board and conservatives at bay.
The negotiators rounded out the group with two freshman senators whose home states underscored the imperative of getting something done. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), as a border-state official, was one of the original architects of comprehensive immigration reform during his time in the House. And Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) owed his election victory to Hispanic voters, who rewarded him for his full-throated endorsement of immigration reform on the 2010 campaign trail when even other Democrats weren’t talking it up.
The group tried to expand to 10 members, but Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) clashed with McCain over whether to do a comprehensive bill or a piecemeal approach. Had Lee joined, Democrats were prepared to recruit Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
But in retrospect, it turned out to be the right mix of liberals and conservatives, veterans and newcomers, taskmasters and political tacticians.
Schumer spent time early on assuring the group that his party, including Obama, didn’t want to jam Republicans. They wanted a solution, not a political issue, for the next election. The process would be fair, Schumer said, and each senator had an equal vote inside the negotiating room. In a subtle nod to that political equanimity, they alternated meetings between McCain’s office and Schumer’s office, and sometimes met off the Senate floor during votes.
McCain forced the group to work quickly, assuming that the political will to get something done would diminish with each passing week. And Schumer swore that the negotiations would not become a repeat of the 2009 bipartisan health care talks led by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) that dragged on for months. No media stakeouts at each meeting, Schumer insisted.
“This isn’t Baucus Beach,” a senior Democratic aide said, referring to the area outside Baucus’s office where reporters camped out during the health care talks and harangued senators for details.
The group spoke so frequently that Schumer memorized the seven other senator’s phone numbers. They even developed their own inside jokes.
In one of the first meetings, Schumer was reading aloud the agenda when his chief immigration aide, Leon Fresco, a precocious Cuban-American lawyer from Miami who approached negotiating sessions like they were debate camp, piped up to correct his boss after he had misspoke.
“Shut up, Leon,” McCain told Fresco, prompting the group to erupt in laughter. McCain repeated that same line — “Shut up, Leon” — whenever Schumer opened the meetings with a review of the agenda.
Fresco turned out to be a dominant force in the talks, as did Rubio aide Gonzalez, another Hispanic-American immigration attorney from Florida whom Rubio hired earlier this year to represent him in the talks. The two became friendly as they haggled over dinner with the rest of the Senate aides, a mix of Hill newcomers like them and low-key immigration veterans like Kerri Talbot, who represented Menendez (D-N.J.), and Joe Zogby, counsel to Durbin.
Fresco came to Schumer in 2009 on the recommendation of fellow Yale Law School classmate Serena Hoy, a top immigration aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). After immigration talks failed in 2010, Fresco ingratiated himself with the press-savvy Schumer by coming up with sure-fire media hits. He tipped off the senator to a $45 baggage carry-on fee instituted by Spirit Airlines, which Fresco flew back and forth to Miami, and Schumer promptly introduced a bill to ban it, garnering blanket coverage.
Fresco, who Schumer called “my immigration genius,” brought that political eye to the talks, repeatedly coming up solutions that allowed both parties to claim victory.
“Brutal” talks almost fall apart
Just as the group moved forward internally, an administration slip-up pulled them back.
The leak of the White House draft bill to USA Today in February seemed to confirm the GOP’s worst fears that Obama didn’t really want the group to succeed. Schumer felt blindsided and Rubio declared the liberal document “dead on arrival” in the Senate.
Obama, who had a confrontational relationship with McCain and Graham since the Benghazi attacks, called the two Republicans to the White House — and in a breakthrough for the trio, they left convinced that the president would back them up.
But the next problem was just around the corner.
The group had made it a top priority to avert the same labor and business battles attracting future low-skilled foreign workers that doomed the immigration bill in 2007. Yet the issue still proved to be one of the chief obstacles again, leading to an impasse. By several accounts, it amounted to the low point in the negotiations.
“The issue at one point looked like it just stopped us cold,” Durbin acknowledged.
Lawmakers had wanted wanted to issue a joint statement before they left for the Easter break saying a deal had been reached on all the major points of contention. But that never happened.
On March 20 and 21, just before the recess, the group was holed up in a conference room just off the Senate floor. Late on the night of March 20, Schumer tweaked an offer previously rejected by the GOP senators, but this time the Republicans believed they could live with it.
But labor balked.
Schumer called up Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, who told the senator, “I know you’re trying. But we’d need this language changed,” according to a source familiar with the call.
Labor unions began to accuse the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of not working in good faith.
Staff and the senators were drained — particularly since those talks occurred just off the Senate floor and through the night during a marathon budget voting session that went until nearly 5 a.m.
It got so bad that they took a break to cool off over the recess.
“We kinda went to our respective corners and had to rethink,” Flake said, describing the talks as “brutal.”
He said he thought the group “wouldn’t salvage it.”
“Coming back to the room and trying to hash it out — we all invested so much time and effort into this and to see it break down like that, it didn’t sit very well,” Flake said.
While negotiations stalled in Washington, four of the gang members headed to the Arizona border with Mexico — publicly keeping a positive face on the progress they were making while revealing few details on how they planned to pay for the billions expected to go to border security.
At that time, staff dialed back their negotiations to give everyone a break from the heated and marathon sessions. After the breakdown, the AFL-CIO’s Ana Avendaño, the Chamber’s Randy Johnson and Fresco continued to try and hammer out the details — and they continued to narrow their differences until they struck a March 29 agreement over a plan to balance the need for foreign workers with the concerns over costing American jobs.
Not wanting one of them to back out, at 9:30 that night from his Brooklyn home, Schumer held a conference call with Trumka, and Tom Donohue, the Chamber leader, and both said “yes.” Donahue suggested the three should grab dinner to celebrate, and Schumer offered to pay for the bill.
The Saturday after the deal was reached between the Chamber and the AFL, Schumer called White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, who was being briefed about the talks.
Upon learning of the deal, McDonough said: “You guys are kicking ass.”
But on Easter Sunday, Schumer was surprised when Rubio blasted out a statement saying that it was premature to consider a deal in hand, prompting media speculation that the Florida Republican was poised to drop out of the talks.
Fresco shot an email to Gonzalez later that day, urging him to keep Rubio on board. And a worried Schumer called Rubio that Monday night, and the two men spoke by phone, assuaging the New York Democrat’s fears that the Florida Republican was wavering over the proposal.
Still, there were ample issues left to resolve. But the group leaked details of the agreement to create the impression that a deal was imminent on the overall bill.
The full group did not meet again until the middle of last week when an agreement appeared to be within reach, electing instead for staff-level talks and negotiations among a smaller number of senators as they worked through the remaining sticking points over the specifics of high-tech visas and a separate agriculture-worker visa program.
As the rest of Washington and country gets a look at what the group spent months negotiating, the senators are optimistic that they struck the right balance, even as the compromises will anger many people.
Sharry, the legalization advocate, said he can now see what the negotiators were trying to do on border security.
Rubio can tell conservatives that the border will finally be secured, employers will be required to check the immigration status of their workers, and visa holders will be tracked. But Democrats can say border security benchmarks won’t impede the path to citizenship.
“It is pretty clever,” Sharry acknowledged this week. “They are both right.”
Tarini Parti contributed to this report.
|© 2013 POLITICO LLC|
A bipartisan group of lawmakers formally filed an 844-page immigration bill on the Senate floor early Wednesday, setting the stage for months of public debate over the proposal.
Leading Capitol Hill opponents of the proposal to overhaul the nation’s immigration systemare coalescing around a strategy to kill the bill by delaying the legislative process as long as possible, providing time to offer “poison pill” amendments aimed at breaking apart the fragile bipartisan group that developed the plan, according to lawmakers and legislative aides.
Read the full text of the proposal, with key sections annotated by Washington Post reporters.
Results from an unscientific survey of Washington Post readers
The tactics, used successfully by opponents of an immigration bill during a 2007 debate in the Senate, are part of an effort to exploit public fissures over core components of the comprehensive legislation introduced Tuesday by eight lawmakers who spent months negotiating the details.
The authors of the bill are considering whether to formally embrace it at a news conference Thursday, a move designed to build momentum for the plan. Conservative critics cautioned Tuesday that the legislative process must not be rushed.
An open process “is essential to gaining public confidence in the content of the bill. We know it’s complicated,” said Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), the top GOP member on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee. “I can’t see any reason to undermine confidence by trying to jam it through without adequate time for people to read it and to hear from their constituents.”
Cornyn aides said the senator is not necessarily against the bill. They said he is encouraged by the bipartisan progress but wants adequate time for debate.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) called the pace of the legislative process — with Judiciary Committee hearings set for Friday and Monday — a “serious problem.” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) suggested to the conservative National Review that caution on immigration is important in light of early speculation that the Boston Marathonbombings might have been carried out by a foreign national with a student visa — speculation that authorities said is not based on any specific finding.
The highly anticipated legislation crafted by the eight Democratic and Republican senators is divided into four sections: border security, immigrant visas, interior enforcement and reforms to nonimmigrant visas (workplace programs).
“We have always welcomed newcomers to the United States and will continue to do so,” reads the introduction. “But in order to qualify for the honor and privilege of eventual citizenship, our laws must be followed.”
The bill states that illegal immigration has, in some cases, become a threat to national security and that strengthening the laws will help improve the nation economically, militarily and ethically.
Aides said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) filed the bill after 1:30 a.m. on behalf of himself and his seven colleagues in the working group, known as the “Gang of Eight”: Democrats Robert Menendez (N.J), Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) and Michael F. Bennet (Colo.), and Republicans Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), John McCain (Ariz.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.).
The bill has several major components, including a 13-year pathway to citizenship — predicated on new border-control measures — for up to 11 million immigrants in the country illegally; new visa programs for high- and low-skilled workers; reductions to some categories of family-based visas; and a greater emphasis on employment and education skills.
Lessons from ’07
Read the full text of the proposal, with key sections annotated by Washington Post reporters.
Results from an unscientific survey of Washington Post readers
Democrats and immigration advocates, along with some GOP supporters, say they have learned from the failed immigration push in 2007, when a flurry of amendments on border control and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants helped sink the legislation before it came to the floor for a vote.
Although the 2007 bipartisan legislation had support from President George W. Bush, the effort failed after an amendment to eliminate a new visa program for low-skilled foreign workers after five years was approved by a single vote, angering business groups and costing GOP support. Then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), at the time a presidential candidate vying for labor unions’ support, voted in favor of that amendment.
Schumer and McCain briefed President Obama at the White House on Tuesday afternoon.
“One thing he made clear is he wants to have an open process, but he doesn’t want to delay and drag this out because that’s the way bills get killed,” Schumer said. “That’s one of the most important points he made.”
Schumer said the goal is to have the Judiciary Committee open the bill for amendments in early May and get it to the Senate floor by early June. In a statement, Obama urged the Senate “to quickly move this bill forward” and pledged to “do whatever it takes to make sure that comprehensive immigration reform becomes a reality as soon as possible.”
Opponents take aim
Members of the Senate working group have agreed to band together to oppose any amendments of the core provisions.
But conservatives are taking aim, arguing that allowing undocumented workers to remain in the country amounts to “amnesty,” that the border-control steps are not strong enough, that the guest-worker program will undercut Americans at a time of high unemployment, and that the bill will amount to trillions of dollars in new federal costs.
Those factors make immigration reform “a heavy lift,” said Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a lawyer who helped Arizona draft one of the nation’s strictest immigration laws in 2008. “Twenty million Americans are unemployed or underemployed. At any other normal time, no one would breathe about amnesty.”
But supporters say the political landscape has changed dramatically since 2007. Latinos overwhelmingly supported Obama’s reelection, and GOP leaders have said the party must do more to appeal to them.
Rubio has received tacit support from conservative talk-show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity after promising the tough border-control measures will be in place before undocumented immigrants earn green cards.
“The theory in 2007 was the longer they could draw it out, a populist upsurge would bring down the bill,” said Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the liberal Center for Community Change. “But this time, we’ll match them toe to toe.”
After months of negotiations, a group of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are poised to release a broad immigration reform bill within the next few days.
The bill would create a pathway to citizenship for some of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants and earmark billions for border security.
Although senators working on the bill have stressed that the document still isn’t finalized, some important details have leaked in the past week.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Border Security “Trigger” The bill creates a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who meet certain qualifications, but applicants would need to undergo a 10-year probationary period before being eligible for a green card.
The decade-long wait comes with another caveat: The federal government will need to meet certain border security benchmarks before any undocumented immigrants can receive a green card.
The benchmarks? An operational border security plan, a completed border fence, a mandatory employment verification system across the country and a system to track exits at airports and seaports, according toreports in several news outlets.
The border security plan would require surveillance of 100 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border and 90 percent effectiveness in border enforcement, The New York Times reported.
If those goals are met, immigrants who completed the 10-year waiting period would be eligible to apply for a green card.
2. The Cut-Off Date Of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., hundreds of thousands may not be eligible for the path to citizenship being offered by the Senate, the AP reported on Friday.
The bill requires that applicants prove they were in the country before December 31, 2011, the AP reported. That means anyone who arrived after that date would be excluded.
There will be other requirements, too, like proving you have a clean criminal record and that you have enough job stability to stay off welfare. How the bill defines those things — criminality and financial stability — could decide the fate of thousands.
3. More Visas for Workers The majority of immigrants who receive legal permanent residence in the U.S. get their visas because of family ties.
But the Senate bill will add a major new “merit-based” program, The New York Times reported on Thursday.
Here’s what will happen, according to the Times:
Over a 10-year period, the government will seek to clear the backlog of 4.7 million immigrants waiting to come to the U.S.
After that, the bill will create a new, merit-based visa program that will offer legal permanent residence based on work skills.
At the same time, some family-based visas will be eliminated. Siblings of U.S. citizens would no longer be eligible for green cards, the documents that show legal permanent residence.
The exact balance of family visas to employment visas in the Senate proposal isn’t clear, but the bill would focus on bringing in more workers of all skill levels.