As for the path to citizenship, as Rubio explained when he rolled out his ideas a couple of weeks ago, the senators envision a temporary legal status and then the opportunity to obtain a green card, upon payment of back taxes, learn English, and a background check “among other requirements.” (Although there was no mention of Rubio’s suggestions for fines or community services is made.) The path to citizenship provisions also emphasize that none of the illegal immigrants could jump ahead of those who have legally been pursuing a green card.
The plan also envisions concretizing the Dream Act (a path to citizenship for children brought here illegally by their parents) that would not have the same lengthy process as other illegal immigrants.
The devil is in the details as they say, but the proposal is greatly encouraging on two fronts. First, Democrats have accepted Rubio’s concept of a non-automatic green card and citizenship procedure. Although the anti-immigrant crowd will insist this is “amnesty” (as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) shamelessly did), the outline (not as explicitly as Rubio’s, I grant you) suggests that illegal immigrants will not get away scot free, if you will, for having been in the U.S. illegally. This boxes in the White House as well, setting up the debate on how tough the path will be.
Second, it also accepts the idea that border security must precede green card status. (Opponents will demand that it precede the probationary legal status as well.) Border security coupled with workplace verification provides assurance that for once we may actually enforce our immigration laws. That, not the current system, would be the “law and order” position.
The objections to immigration reform — it is “amnesty,” we will encourage further illegal immigration, it is not fair to those going through the process legally, etc. — are all addressed in some fashion. Now we will see whether Rubio, who has already garnered considerable conservative support for his ideas, can provide enough cover to conservatives to ignore the exclusionists and get behind the plan.
As for the White House and Democrats, they will have to give up the prospect of using immigration as a club, resist the temptation to spike the deal by eviscerating and allay the hue and cry from labor unions. This of course comes at a time when illegal immigration from Mexico has declined practically nil — and therefore the threat of encouraging more illegal immigration is less potent.
Conservatives have a momentous decision. Do they cling to phony bumper sticker slogans like “no amnesty” or do they join the reality-based legislation movement? It’s time to put aside the nasty rhetoric, the phony excuses and the urge to play to the most extreme elements in the base. For conservative media, it will also be a test of responsibility, political courage and honesty: Will they inflame or debate? Disabuse the base of the notion that the current system is “law and order” or play to their worst fears?
Can Democrats and Republicans come together? I’m not sure, but it looks more promising than it has in decades.