Monday, January 28, 2013

Doomed? Or Destiny?

That didn't take long. Just hours after the revelation of the "Gang of 8" Senate immigration deal and hours before President Obama returns to Nevada to reveal his own blueprint for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), a familiar voice is now chiming in. Guess who's been "evolving" on immigration.

“It is encouraging to see President Obama, Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans commit to passing reforms that will create an orderly immigration process for those wishing to take part in the American Dream. For far too long, many in Washington have focused on the twenty percent where Democrats and Republicans disagree. We are making progress towards a proposal that focuses on the 80 percent where both sides of the aisle can come to an agreement.

“Since November, I have had several conversations with Senator Rubio, as well as discussions with Senator Graham, Senator Flake and Representative Raúl Labrador about my views on comprehensive immigration reform. This bipartisan group of Senators has provided a reasonable starting point for Republicans and Democrats to work together. I support many of the principles included in this plan, and look forward to reviewing specific details in the weeks and months ahead. As the President prepares to release his own ideas for immigration reform, it is my hope that he looks to this bipartisan proposal as a blueprint for his plans moving forward."

What a difference a statewide campaign makes. Remember when Senator Dean Heller (R-46%) toed the "tea party" line in opposing CIR? This sounds like someone who had to do some "soul searching" after winning his election by fewer than 13,000 votes and with much less than 50%.

All of a sudden, Capitol Hill is buzzing with confidence that a deal will be made. And with Dean Heller now firmly on board, immigration reformers may finally be on the cusp of securing the 60+ votes needed for CIR to clear the Senate. And though immigrant rights activists are still concerned about what will happen in the "sausage making process" of crafting the specific language of this bill, many are feeling increasingly optimistic about 2013 becoming the year of immigration reform.

Advocates describe the senators’ framework as the biggest bipartisan breakthrough publicly released since 2007, when President George Bush’s immigration overhaul died in Congress. Like Bush’s plan, the senators’ supports steps to legalization that are “contingent upon securing our borders” and enforcing visa overstays, which must be accomplished before any undocumented immigrant receives a green card. Advocates say that’s the most meaningful part of the plan but also the one that raises the most questions.

Their concern is that the conditions for gaining citizenship could wind up being so stringent that undocumented immigrants could remain in legal limbo for the indeterminate future. “Is this citizenship in name only?If so, there is going to be some pretty dramatic backlash,” says Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center.

The proposal, for example, calls for border security to “apprehend every unauthorized entrant,” which has raised some eyebrows. “If that’s going to be the standard, that’s essentially an unrealistic, impossible standard to meet,” says [Greg Chen, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association].

Advocates are hopeful, however, that the senators’ intent is to make the plan workable and not create an endless, open-ended timeframe for legalization. Bush’s 2007 plan, for instance, set up similar triggers for gaining citizenship. According to Giovagnoli, experts estimated at the time that clearing out the backlog of visas would take about eight years. And this new blueprint, on its face, suggests that legislators might be willing to push a bill that’s more generous than the 2007 plan.

There was some concern this morning about the "trigger" for permanent legal status, but so far it looks like Senate Democrats are determined to ensure no "second class citizen" status results from this legislation.

So are we finally approaching a breakthrough on CIR? Not so fast, says Salon's Alex Pareene. He still thinks House Republicans will likely kill the bill. Remember them?

The problem comprehensive immigration reform ran into last time is that Republicans don’t want it. The business community wants it, obviously, but Republicans forced to choose between donors and their right-wing white constituents are generally more terrified of pissing off their constituents. Right-wing nativism has declined a bit since its recent height in 2010, but it’s still arguably worse than it was in 2006, when mass conservative revolt killed the last deal.

As all of America’s recent legislative fights have shown, House Republicans are protected from national anti-conservative trends by very safe and conservative districts. They are more vulnerable to getting primaried than they are to losing to moderates or Democrats in a general election. A majority of Americans may now support a path to citizenship,but a majority of Americans also support hiking taxes on the rich, and the GOP nearly shut down the government rather than agree to that. [...]

[... T]he entire deal rests on Speaker John Boehner again bringing a major, controversial bill to the floor without a majority of Republican support, and relying on Democratic votes for its passage. I’m not sure he can do that again without ending his career. I imagine he’d be perfectly fine with killing whatever the Senate passes and allowing his caucus to pass some sort of “flying border drones and giant fences only” version of “immigration reform” instead.

Personally, I'm not so pessimistic. I wouldn't underestimate either the power of public opinion or Republicans' instinct for political survival. But then again, the latter presents a real pickle for Republican Members of Congress. Do they back CIR and risk "tea party" backlash? Or do they kill CIR and risk further alienating minority communities?

This is where Joe Heck and Mark Amodei step in. Will they back CIR? That will ultimately determine both the future of this legislation... And the future of the Republican Party.

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