Will Immigration Reform Work This Time?

The Senate's Gang of Eight hails a "major breakthrough" on a comprehensive bill, but they have a long way to go.

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John Moore / Getty Images

New American citizens take photos following a naturalization ceremony at the district office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Newark, N.J., on Jan. 28, 2013.

Even in these days of 10% approval ratings, the triumphal press conference is a Capitol Hill fixture. But this one felt a little different. The bipartisan group of Senators who unveiled their proposal for comprehensive immigration reform on Monday were chummy beyond the usual standards of forced comity, referring to one another as the “glue” or the “force” behind the deal. Democrat Chuck Schumer lauded Republicans for their courage. Republican John McCain, who has been a stalwart opponent of Barack Obama ever since losing the White House in 2008, said the deal the Senators had struck would help the President. How long has it been since lawmakers went before the cameras to announce a bipartisan deal — without the hunted look of hostage victims?

Perhaps since they launched a similar bid to overhaul the U.S. immigration system. Those efforts, from 2005 to 2007, and again in 2009 and 2010, were led by many of the same Senators spearheading the push that was launched on Monday. The bills produced in those doomed efforts look eerily similar to the new framework released by the Senate’s so-called Gang of Eight. Schumer touted the outline as a “major breakthrough,” and through the prism of Washington’s polarized politics, it was. It also carried a whiff of Groundhog Day.

(MORE: Why States Shouldn’t Control Immigration)

The Senators acknowledged their recent history of failed attempts to thread comprehensive immigration reform through the narrow pathways of a divided Congress. “Senators have stood here before trumpeting similar proposals, but we believe this will be the year Congress finally gets it done,” Schumer said. The 2012 election results provide some cause for optimism. Obama trounced Mitt Romney among Hispanics, 71% to 27%, which helped lift him to re-election. That drubbing came after a primary season that saw Republican candidates toss around terms like “self-deportation” and “anchor babies,” which alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the U.S. Polls show that all segments of the electorate, including independents and Republicans, favor an immigration fix that provides a pathway to citizenship while tightening security along the U.S. border. Republicans have been slow to embrace policy change in the wake of their November defeat, but immigration reform is an exception born of exigency.

“First of all, Americans support it in poll after poll,” said Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, one of four Democrats in the bipartisan group. “Secondly, Latino voters expect it. Third, Democrats want it. And fourth, Republicans need it.”

The blueprint outlined by the Gang of Eight — which also includes Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois and Michael Bennet of Colorado as well as Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona — contains four basic pillars. It would create a “tough but fair” path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants while beefing up border security. It would streamline the legal immigration system and create incentives to lure sought-after tech and science whizzes. It would establish a mechanism for employers to check the immigration status of potential hires. And it would try to create ways for employers — particularly in the agricultural sector — to find low-wage undocumented workers when Americans are not available.

(MORE: Not Legal, Not Leaving)

This outline is “not much different,” McCain conceded on Sunday, from the legislation he developed in concert with the late Ted Kennedy, which was thwarted in 2007 despite bipartisan backing and the strong support of President George W. Bush. Why would it meet a different fate now? “Elections,” McCain said. “The Republican Party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens.” The Arizona Senator passed on a brief statement from his friend Graham, which read, in part, “I hope the third time is the charm.”

Republicans who view immigration reform as key to the party’s future have nursed suspicions that Democrats would undermine the bipartisan effort to preserve their edge with Latino voters. On Monday, the White House blessed the group’s work, praising its efforts while also claiming credit for the achievement. “This is a big deal,” said press secretary Jay Carney. “I think it’s important, before we let the moment pass, to acknowledge that the progress we’re seeing embodied in the principles put forward by this bipartisan group is happening for a reason. And I think it’s happening because a consensus is developing in the country, a bipartisan consensus. And it’s happening because the President has demonstrated significant leadership on this issue.” A key question now is how quickly Senate Democrats will move on the broad proposal.

The timing of the group’s presentation is also significant. By unveiling their blueprint on Monday, lawmakers laid down a marker one day before Obama outlines his own principles during a visit to Nevada. While Carney said the group’s priorities “mirror” the President’s, Obama may opt for a supporting role, even though he has publicly identified immigration reform as one of the goals of his second term. To many Republicans, the President’s imprimatur is like the grim reaper’s touch.

(MORE: Why Undocumented Workers Are Good for the Economy)

Already, anti-immigration groups are assailing the proposal as “amnesty,” a loaded word invoked on Monday by House Republican Lamar Smith. It was a glimpse of what the Senate group will face as it tries to turn a skeletal document into a bill. They will need to act fast if they hope to hash out legislative language in committee by March, with the goal of passing a bill by late spring or early summer. Despite Monday’s rare bipartisan bonhomie, the Gang of Eight will have to navigate a raft of competing interests: House Republicans worried about primary challenges, a tug of war between business and labor, Hispanics unsatisfied by the arduous and murky path to citizenship. Then there are the looming brawls over the budget and gun control, which could poison whatever cross-aisle goodwill exists. “We’ve been down this road before,” Durbin admitted. It didn’t end well in the past.

Bipartisan Group Of Senators Announce Major Agreement On Immigration Reform

Alex Wong / Getty Images

From left, Senators John McCain, Chuck Schumer, Marco Rubio, Bob Menendez and Dick Durbin listen during a news conference on comprehensive immigration reform on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 28, 2013.

208 comments
SpartaofPhoenixAZUSA
SpartaofPhoenixAZUSA

No, this won't work...It is almost a carbon copy of the 1986 Amnesty! They have added new requirements and penalties but how are they going to enforce any of it? That can't enforce what is on the books now...Plus, they have done nothing to get rid of the incentives that bring most here...BIRTH RIGHT CITIZENSHIP and the ease to live/work here illegally. Our politicians are clowns! 

CharlesEdwardBrown
CharlesEdwardBrown

NO AMNESTY and No Pathway to US Citizenship for illegal aliens. Rewarding these criminals will bring new waves of illegal aliens into the United States. Almost half of the illegal aliens are people who are past their Visa dates and any amount of border security will not fix that problem. We need to make employers pay the cost of deporting their illegal alien employees and their families.

MikeBushman
MikeBushman

Give Rubio, Durbin and the others credit. The bipartisan agreement did something unusual - starting with principles as the basis of policy. Whether the actual language follows through on the principles remains to be seen, but the relevant principles are: 1) all men and women are created equal, 2) those who break the law should not have a better chance of succeeding than those who follow it; 3) as a nation of immigrants, we need hard-working, tax-paying immigrants, 4) an integrating nation that speaks a common language (while also promoting multi-lingual education) has a better chance of avoiding conflict over the centuries than a segregated nation, and 5) America can only fully guarantee principle #1 for citizens and legal immigrants. The outline document appears to address these principles, but the real issue is can we trust successive administrations and congresses to follow through on border security and improved immigration processes. History suggests this is a stretch, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Read "Melting Point 2040" for a story of what will happen to America if we don't follow these principles and fix our badly broken immigration system.

mydads1st
mydads1st

If the TEA party has it's way  - NOPE! But take a look at the faces of those angry white men. Rubio looks white and you'd know he wasn't when you heard his name. Get real with the kudos for Marco Rubio. He has no charisma or charm or character. he is of the same caliber as Ted Cruz of Texas. Ted Cruz is a Canadian by birth and a TEA party bigot by training. His Hispanic name does not qualify him to make changes to the original Dream Act and his efforts to water-down the original Dream Act show the narrow concepts he has towards those who have family in the states. His version of the Dream Act creates multiple layers of citizenship and too many hoops to jump through for undocumented's to be able to attain citizenship. Ted Cruz is a TEA-type and has openly railed against amnesty and inclusion. John McCain, Marco Rubio, Jeff Flake and Lindsey Graham are all TEA-types and suspect at the very least. The Dream Act was ready in 2007 and scheduled for vote in 2010 and the TEA-Republicans intentionally held it back. Many, many Cubans who emigrated from Cuba - including those whose families left under Batista, well before the Revolution brought Castro to power - are a no-fit in the 'Hispanic' and 'immigrant' political terminology. The people crossing into the US from or through Mexico undergo a completely different experience, and they are generally from a vastly difference socio-economic background than were the Cubans. And then there is Cruz, whom you have so accurately described. He is a "Panstick #3" Hispanic ... it is a darker color than is he. He and Rubio are "Hispanic" light, all prettied up to be marketable to the Conservative Anglo base of the Tea Party and the Republican Party. Neither would last 5 minutes in the real world of Hispanics in the US. The real target of the immigration reform are the undocumented workers and families who have been here state-side for longer than 20 to 30 years and have roots with grown children. That's who is targeted and who should be brought into the conversation. Criminalizes people rather than their actions is the polish the TEA-Republicans and their membership have been using to stereotype people from south of the border. Many Americans have been swayed into stereotyping people who are not white. What is also significant is the FOX-hole pseudo-news outlet's poll showing 90% supporting the Dream Act and 85% a pathway to citizenship. Ted Cruz's Hispanic name does not qualify him to make changes to the original Dream Act and his efforts to water-down the original Dream Act show the narrow concepts he has towards those who have family in the states. His version of the Dream Act creates multiple layers of citizenship and too many hoops to jump through for undocumented citizenship.

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

Speaking of luring intellectuals and skilled workers while ignoring the vast majority of undocumented immigrants (many skilled in construction trades),  of tightening the border (tear down this wall!!), of new citizenship for people who are happy with their present citizenship, of concern for hispanic citizen voters' allegiance, and the overall stench of false progress, prejudice, and cynical approach is not "immigration reform".

The smell of the Republican skunk in the jury box will linger well beyond this pathetic effort, and the Dems are following down that path.  Pitiful is the only word I can think of for this big PR scam. 

JerryBall
JerryBall

Probably a good time to do this. The Day Laborers have fled back to Mexico and we are left with the serious candidates for Citizenship (to be earned, mind you).

LouisPFreely
LouisPFreely

I will only support a path to citizenship if there is actual enforcement with teeth.  The illegals in front of Home Depot should be scared to be in public.

romerjt
romerjt

To the moderator:  Most of the posts have nothing to do with the content of the article or even the subject in general.  This reflects badly in the magazine and American too.  I spent my career trying to teach students to make good arguments supported by factual information and reason . .  this is isn't that. 

WhiteyJones
WhiteyJones

this country and its people get every thing that is coming to them

WhiteyJones
WhiteyJones

Interesting, how did it fail us last time in 86 when we handed them amnesty. Oh wait I know, the other 20 million weren't here yet

grape_crush
grape_crush

It's nice to see representatives of the right wing work so hard in the previous comments to show how welcoming they are to soon-to-be-non-minority Hispanic and black Americans.

KenDreger
KenDreger

I read the 5 page outline and it could of been written by a kid in high school.  I falls apart in the first page and then continues to go down hill. There is nothing in this document that explaines to us who is going to manage the new programs, how much they will cost, when will they go into effect, how long will they run just to name a few issues.  Every sectionb raises more questions than it gives answers, If I were an Illegal Alien and was hoping that this was my endall solution, I think I would be looking at a ticket back home! This will never happen! The open borders folks will hate the restrictions!

RRocklin
RRocklin

Let's do amnesty every 30 years.  Why bother with an  immigration process at all.  

DennisMadden
DennisMadden

Sure it will just like it did last time. It will water down the tax payers and give more to the tax takers. GET YOUR HEADS OUT OF YOUR BUTT. 

JerryBall
JerryBall

We should be on our knees singing "Hallelujah" instead of keeping up the "nattering nabobs of negativity" that has become the GREAT ZEITGEIST of the nation. Something in the Government is moving ahead after four years of the filibustering and stalemate political ploys we've been suffering under through political angst by misguided Congressmen and Senators who thought "nothing" would help the American economy and well-being instead of "something." Let's face it -- anything is better than the nation of bitchers, slaggards, and do-nothings we have become. With my fingers crossed, moving forward, I hope. Even Fox coughed up a hairball with that word "bipartisan" square in the middle of it. A miracle, let's not look it in the face....

SpartaofPhoenixAZUSA
SpartaofPhoenixAZUSA

What a flipping cluster...If there was ever a time needed for people to be in the streets it is now..The American people are being sold out and we are all to fat and lazy to do anything about it anymore! 

aztecian
aztecian

@RRocklin We don't need no amnesty...we are here because this land belongs to us!

MrObvious
MrObvious

@DennisMadden 

So by making illegal immigrants pay taxes it will water down the tax payers?

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

That would be a wonderful special effect.

DennisMadden
DennisMadden

@JerryBall 

I can't wait till you have to share your house with them. And your kids will become a minority, Jerry BALL

RealAmerican.
RealAmerican.

@aztecian @formerlyjames

Nope, we kicked your ass and took it, get over it you 3rd world apple picker ! Take your drug running , smelly unwashed disease carrying ass back to South America !! You are not welcome here, be careful or we'll kick your ass again and take all of Mexico !!

JerryBall
JerryBall

Actually we here in California were allowed to immigrate by Mexico of old. Same for Texas and most of the Louisiana Purchase. Of course the American Indians allowed the Spanish who proceeded to kill them all until the Europeans finished the Indians off.

JerryBall
JerryBall

@DennisMadden @JerryBall Always did share with them. I live in Silicon Valley, Northern California. Don't know about you but I'd like to see them become taxpayers. What is your motive? My ancestors came to Boston in 1640 on both father and mother's sides without restraint from Scotland and Ireland. How long you here and what were your ancestor's immigration situation?

aztecian
aztecian

@JerryBall we colonized all of the southwest...it is ours.  get back on mayflower!

JerryBall
JerryBall

Wait a minute... Aztecs NEVER lived in California, so get lost.

Coach63DH
Coach63DH

@JerryBall @DennisMadden I can trace my ancestors to the Mayflower--Captain Harlowe.  Both sides of my family were pioneers in Nebraska prior to the Civil War.  So, then I propose that all Americans whose families immigrated to this country after the Civil War be exported, whether they are legal or illegal. But then I would lose my wife and my children and all that would be left are African-Americans, Mexicans, Indians, Colonists and Pioneers.