Tuesday, January 15, 2013

¿Si Se Puede?

Today on KNPR, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Searchlight) discussed a variety of issues. One happened to be an issue that attracted quite a bit of attention last year... Especially once it bit Republicans in the behind last fall. It may not have been front and center in recent weeks, but comprehensive immigration reform will likely soon take center stage in the 113th Congress.

And this time, Senator Reid is confident that a broad, bipartisan consensus can be reached this year. But why, especially after last year's heated rhetoric? He must be noticing the two shining Republican stars who are suddenly embracing comprehensive reform.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is currently working with a group of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate to craft legislation, but until recently avoided calls for a broad immigration bill that would grant a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Instead, he suggested a series of smaller bills, an idea that Democrats and the White House have long dismissed as a nonstarter. But over the weekend, Rubio told the Wall Street Journal that while he still prefers a series of bills, his broader plan resembles the general framework favored by most Democrats and immigration reformers: a path to citizenship, increased visas for high-tech workers, a system for bringing in temporary agricultural workers, and a crackdown on employers who hire undocumented workers.

It’s all still very vague and the White House and Senate have yet to produce a specific bill of their own to compare it to. But while Rubio stressed that his plan “is not blanket amnesty or a special pathway to citizenship,” he made clear that the legislation he had in mind would strive to ensure that the undocumented population is not left in legal limbo indefinitely. Given that Rubio has toyed with bills that might have stopped short of citizenship before, this is a significant move. And the types of requirements he mentioned might be necessary to gain permanent residency and eventually citizenship — such as passing a criminal background check, paying a fine and back taxes — sounded largely in line with Democratic proposals. Should he abandon his insistence on passing legislation in a series of bills, there may not be a ton of distance between him and Senate Democrats.

“It’s not good for our country to have people trapped in this status forever,” Rubio said. “It’s been a disaster for Europe.”

In another significant development, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), announced on Facebook that he agreed with Rubio’s proposal. The House is expected to be a tough sell for immigration reform and Ryan, who recently told a leading pro-immigration Democrat that he’s interested in reform, could prove an important leader if he fully embraces the Senate’s efforts at a bipartisan compromise.

“Senator Rubio is exactly right on the need to fix our broken immigration system,” Ryan wrote. “I support the principles he’s outlined: modernization of our immigration laws; stronger security to curb illegal immigration; and respect for the rule of law in addressing the complex challenge of the undocumented population. Our future depends on an immigration system that works.”

Rubio and Ryan must have seen the writing on Mitt Romney's wall. And they no longer want to be haunted by the political ghosts of Kris Kobach, Joe Arpaio, and Nevada's own Sharron Angle. So now, they suddenly want to take part in crafting comprehensive reform.

Already, Senator Dean Heller (R-46%) has at least publicly changed his tune on matters of immigration. It now looks like more prominent Republicans may be joining him. However, they still have an incredibly difficult task ahead of them in explaining all this to the G-O-TEA base who still stand with the likes of Angle, Arpaio, and Kobach in their anti-immigrant xenophobia.

At this point, it's become painfully obvious to everyone living in the real world that we can't continue to force 12-14 million people to live in the nation's shadows. And not only would it be inhumane to deport them all, but it would also be incredibly expensive and logistically impossible. There's always been support for comprehensive immigration reform. But now that some Republican leaders fear for the future of their party (if they continue to scare away Latin@s and other minority communities), they may finally be ready to deal.

But will this be enough to make something happen in Congress? That remains to be seen. But if anyone can find a way to count all the way to passage, it's Harry Reid.

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