Bipartisan Senate Deal Reached On Immigration Reform: For Real or One More False Start? (UPDATED 3)

The good news: a bipartisan Senate deal has been reached on immigration reform, one that will fall short of what President Barack Obama is likely to unveil. But it’s a substantive starting point for discussion. The bad news: whatever the Senate decides, whatever Obama suggests will have to go to the House.

So the key question will really be: will 2013 be different than 2012? Or different from other years when members of the Republican party base, stirred up by talk show hosts or conservative writers stirred up the base to contact Republican members of Congress and check-mated any serious attempt at real immigration reform? Is it different now from when 2012 Presidential candidate Mitt Romney got approving nods of the heads (and votes) from Republicans when he suggested the government should make it so tough on those who are in the United States illegally that they felt they would have to “self-deport?”

The details via the L.A. Times:

A bipartisan group of senators has agreed on a plan to grant legal status to most of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., which could form the basis for a far-reaching overhaul of immigration laws this year.

The Senate blueprint, drafted during weeks of closed-door meetings by leading senators from each party, will probably set parameters for a contentious legislative battle over the next several months. The eight senators involved intend to release their proposal publicly Monday. A copy was provided to The Times’ Washington bureau on Sunday by Senate aides.

The Senate plan is more conservative than President Obama’s proposal, which he plans to unveil Tuesday in a speech in Las Vegas. But its provisions for legalizing millions of undocumented immigrants go further than measures that failed to advance in Congress in previous years — a reminder of how swiftly the politics of immigration have shifted since Latino voters’ strong influence in the November election.

This means the parameters for serious discussion and policy making have shifted — a good sign for immigration reform and the country’s political center.

In terms of the number of people who would potentially receive legal status, it would be more than three times larger than the amnesty plan passed under President Reagan in 1986, which legalized about 3 million immigrants.

I covered that plan as part of my beat when I was a reporter on the San Diego Union.

The senators involved hope to begin committee votes on a bill as soon as March. The timing of their proposal and Obama’s, coupled with that schedule — quick by Senate standards — could set up a dynamic in which an eventual bill falls somewhere between the bipartisan plan and the president’s.

Latino activists and other advocates for comprehensive immigration reform have pushed for quick action in the Senate, hoping that a large bipartisan vote for a bill that includes a path to citizenship would put pressure on the House.

Many members of the House Republican majority represent districts where proposals for legalization remain highly unpopular, but many Republicans also worry about the political price if the party takes the blame for killing immigration reform.

The Senate proposal would allow most of those in the country illegally to obtain probationary legal status immediately by paying a fine and back taxes and passing a background check. That would make them eligible to work and live in the U.S. They could earn a green card — permanent residency — after the government certifies that the U.S.-Mexican border has become secure, but might face a lengthy process before becoming citizens.

Obama is expected to push for a faster citizenship process that would not be conditional on border security standards being met first. The structure of the citizenship process will probably be among the most hotly debated parts of any immigration plan.

Immigration reform has long been a political football in the United States — one that is in play so often, with so many Lucy-moves-the-football moves that effective reform has been stymied. In June, after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on Arizona’s immigration law, and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s rhetoric suggested she was trying to pass herself off as a kind of Statue of Liberty, I wrote in my nationally syndicated weekly Cagle Cartoons column, in part:

And, all the while, comprehensive immigration reform sits on the back burner. A-g-a-i-n. It smolders there — symbolic of both political parties’ failure to put aside pandering to their bases. Serious immigration reform involves give and take by both parties on how to control the borders and offer a humane path for those who’ve been here for many years. But in 21st Century America compromise is a dirty word. Partisans only want the “take.”

The list of those who failed on comprehensive immigration reform is long: Ronald Reagan (whose amnesty plan succeeded, but the crackdown on employers never happened), Ted Kennedy, Arizona Sen. John McCain, President George W. Bush, and Obama. In the past decade, conservative Republicans have deep-sixed comprehensive reform efforts.
Many of comprehensive immigration reform’s foes describe the people involved as little more than statistics and stereotypes. During my jobs as a reporter for the Wichita Eagle and San Diego Union from 1980 through 1990, I did several series on illegal immigrants, immigration reform, and bilingual education, and illegal immigrant families didn’t fit negative stereotypes.

Most I talked to in Kansas, San Diego and at the border left Mexico because they couldn’t make money there and were in survival mode for their families. Some sisters died crossing the desert seeking a better life. A 10-year-old boy talked about how due to money problems, his little brother was with relatives in another state, and said he missed him: “He has a face like a pig.” A father with six kids with a brutal meat packing plant job lost his thumb fixing an old car he later sold to another immigrant to supplement his income.

Today, I sometimes meet parents who I learn have been here illegally for a long time and their focus is invariably on their born-in-the-U.S.A. kids. This human aspect — which gets lost in our always polarizing political polemics — is what Reagan, George Bush, Kennedy, McCain and Obama felt needed to be addressed.

Republicans and Democrats need to put aside viewing the illegal immigrants as tools to manipulate and attract chunks of voters and do what both parties have not yet done: not fail immigrants and America on this issue again. Because immigrants are not mere numbers. They’re breathing, feeling — and aspiring — people.

When thoughtful, serious, comprehensive immigration reform truly happens, that’ll be the day Jan Brewer’s Statue of Liberty costume might actually fit.

Will House Republicans (again) nix the desires of a majority of Americans on a policy?

Or are we now significantly close to the day when the Statue of Liberty costume will fit.

Or will immigration reform in terms of what is suggested at the beginning of the discussion and the actual voting again resemble this?

UPDATE: Not a good sign for immigration reform’s advance. House Speaker John Boehner is evasive on this report:
Speaker John Boehner is not taking a position on the bipartisan Senate immigration proposal.

The Ohio Republican’s spokesman, Michael Steel, said Boehner “welcomes the work of leaders like [Florida] Sen. [Marco] Rubio on this issue, and is looking forward to learning more about the proposal in the coming days.”

House leadership has signaled that they would wait for the Senate to move immigration reform before they take it up in their chamber.

More accurately: House leadership is waiting to hear from other House members who are waiting to hear what their constituents say after many of in their district listen to conservative talk show hosts or read emails or conservative blogs. The good news for immigration reform is that this is no longer monolithic: even Sean Hannity shifted his position on this issue a bit.

The real question may be:

Just how watered down will the final immigration reform package be?

UPDATED II: Read this excellent Huffington Post analysis.

UPDATED III: And be sure to read Doug Mataconis (who always tries to analyze and not indulge in polemics).

2 Comments

  1. Well, if for no other reason, the Republicans will do everything they can to block legislation because it is something the Dems really want.
    If the Reps can keep fewer immigrants from living on our shores, the fewer votes for the “minority loving” Dems in upcoming elections.

  2. Am I imagining incorrectly, or are there plenty of liberals frowning at this example of bi-partisanship? Could the image of intractable Reps actually coming together with Dems (even if it is just the Senate)on an issue be ruining the rants of some liberals. Do they think this is a Charley Brown move to discombobulate Obama?
    Stay tuned, the reps may be on to something.
    And, smile, you still have the house making your day. :-)

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