Maybe Republican senators are better negotiators than their Democratic counterparts, but as on anti-gun legislation, the bipartisan immigration reform tips rather significantly in favor of conservatives — at least those who aren’t opposed to any legislation.
The most critical part of immigration reform for conservatives is border security. Without comprehensive immigration reform, they aren’t going to get much of anything in that regard. And without border security, they fear that legalization becomes an invitation for more illegal immigration and then more legalization.
A Senate Republican aide not authorized to speak on the record tells me that there are six triggers for green card eligibility (required time frame is in parentheses):
1) DHS must create, fund & begin border security plan (6 months)
2) DHS must create, fund & begin border fence plan (6 months)
3) DHS must achieve 100% awareness & 90% success in high-risk sectors of Mexican border (5 years)
4) If DHS fails #3, then Border Commission create & implement plan to achieve #3 (10 years)
5) Universal E-verify must be implemented (10 years)
6) Visa-exit system must be implemented for all international airports & seaports (10 years).
Critics of any immigration reform may argue that the pre-green card legalization (“registered provisional” status) doesn’t require all that, “only” a criminal background check, fine and payment of back taxes. But understand these people are here now, with no real threat (or ability on the U.S. government’s part) of sending them “home.” In essence, as Sen. Marco Rubio has pointed out, the status quo now is “amnesty”; this at least gets these immigrants into a system and collects a fine and tax revenue.
Those Republicans nervous about all those Hispanic voters can console themselves with a wait of many years until citizenship, more than enough time for Republicans to learn how to appeal to such voters.
In essence, if you accept that you have to start somewhere and we have no capability to uproot 11 million people, this is a very conservative-friendly plan. No wonder immigrant-advocacy groups are complaining that the path is too difficult. That said, if Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other “Gang of 8″ Dems are true to their word and want to get legislation (instead of a campaign issue against the GOP), they’ll defend the deal. Like all compromises it is imperfect. But for pro-immigration reform Republicans, it’s hard to imagine them doing any better than this.