April 16, 2013

The Senate “Gang of Eight” has released a memo outlining its comprehensive immigration reform proposal. The details should be familiar to anyone following the legislative journey.

Republicans and Democrats have agreed to a path to citizenship — unauthorized immigrants who have lived in the United States continually since before December 31, 2011 will be eligible for “Registered Provisional Immigrant Status” if they pay back taxes, fines, and haven’t been convicted of a felony. And after ten years, they would be eligible for green cards if they have demonstrated knowledge of English and paid an additional fine. The bill includes a fast track to a green card for DREAM Act applicants, a guest worker program, a new merit-based visa system, and a higher cap for high-skilled workers, provided they don’t undercut American worker wages.

What ties all of this together are a series of border security triggers, to assuage Republicans who fear a new wave of illegal immigration. The first requires the Department of Homeland Security to establish strategies for border security before any unauthorized immigrant can be given “Registered Provisional” status. The second, then, keeps those with said status from becoming eligible for “Lawful Permanent Resident” status until DHS and the Comptroller General can confirm that an employment verification system has been implemented and new border security measures are in place.

There is also a requirement for the federal government to create — within ten years — an electronic system for checking foreigners as they enter and leave the country through airports and seaports. Overall, these triggers would require DHS to spend $5.5 billion over ten years to enhance enforcement and further extend fencing along the border with Mexico.

All of this should satisfy the various demands and concerns made by Republicans over the last several months. More to the point, it fits broadly with what Republican voters want.

According to a newly released poll from the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution, 62 percent of Republicans support a path to citizenship if it includes specific requirements like paying back taxes, learning English and passing a background check.

In other words, most Republican lawmakers have no real reason to oppose this based on what they’ve outlined as their concerns. Which is to say that, with this immigration bill, we’ll see if Republicans are actually interested in governing, or if they’re still completely invested in an approach of constant opposition to anything proposed or supported by President Obama and the Democratic Party.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.