Monday, January 28, 2013

¿Trato Hecho?

What a difference an election makes. Just hours before President Obama comes to Southern Nevada to pitch his immigration reform proposal, a "gang of 8" US Senators jumped ahead of Obama in releasing their own "grand bargain" on immigration reform.

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. [...]

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.

Less-controversial provisions would tighten requirements on employers to check the immigration status of new workers; increase the number of visas for high-skilled jobs; provide green cards automatically to people who earn master's degrees or PhDs in science, technology or math at U.S. universities; and create an agricultural guest-worker program.

At first, this seems like a reasonable deal. However, there may be a nasty devil in the details that needs to be further examined. Under this deal, about 9 million undocumented immigrants won't even receive permanent legal status until the border has been "certified as secure". The federal government has spent $187 billion on border security since then-President Ronald Reagan signed the last immigration overhaul in 1986. And under Obama's first term, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported a record number of immigrants. How much more must we spend on border security until the border is "certified as secure"?

Perhaps this is a good faith effort at bipartisan compromise and deal-making. But what if it isn't? Are at least some Republicans hoping that this commission never officially declares a "secure" US/Mexico Border? I'm sure immigrant rights activists will be looking at this provision very closely to see how workable this really is. They will probably also be listening closely to President Obama's Las Vegas speech tomorrow to make sure he's committed to ensuring no permanent "second class citizenship" status is created.

Yet despite this yellow flag for the left, it still looks like the bigger danger for CIR (comprehensive immigration reform) lies with the right. As we've discussed before, Republicans' "tea party" base have been dead set against any kind of CIR. Will Senator Marco Rubio's (R-Florida) seal of approval change that? Or will they lump him in with Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) as a "sellout"?

And how will Senator Dean Heller (R-46%) & Rep. Joe Heck (R-"TEA" Curious) respond to this new development? Heller has already been "moderating" his language on immigration since he barely won reelection last fall (and lost the Latin@ vote 2-1). And Heck has been trying to strike a balance between his "TEA" fueled base and the political realities of NV-03. What will they say after Obama's unveiling of his plan, especially after this Senate proposal has been revealed?

There now looks to be a mad rush for CIR on Capitol Hill. Harry Reid's big goal may finally be coming to fruition, and one of President Obama's key campaign promises may finally come close to being fulfilled. But again, the devils may be truly be in the details. Just how workable is this new Senate deal? And can any Senate deal survive John Boehner's dysfunctional "tea party" plagued House?

The President will probably have all of this and more on his mind when he returns to Nevada tomorrow.

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