Reports earlier today indicated House Speaker John Boehner told his conference that a “statement of principles” on immigration reform would be coming. A person in the room told Right Turn that Boehner referred to it as a “standards or principles document” on immigration and said it will include input from leadership and chairmen who have been working on the issue. It is not clear precisely when the specifics will be forthcoming, but the speaker is aiming to have a draft to share with all members in the coming weeks.
Two GOP offices involved in immigration reform characterized the reaction as “generally” or “largely” positive. Boehner’s staff is doing everything it can to downplay expectations about what the final outcome could be. Not unlike international diplomats, they hope starting the process will generate momentum for some sort of House immigration bill. Other key GOP leaders are more optimistic, suggesting a path to citizenship of some sort is still possible.
It’s useful, since he has become such a critical player in high-stakes legislation, to see what House budget committee chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) has been saying on the topic. Last July, in a town hall meeting in Racine, Wis., Ryan described what he had in mind, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported:
Ryan said negotiations are underway to bring “these various bills to the floor of Congress.”
“Tentatively, October, we’re going to vote on these bills,” Ryan said. “We’re going to vote on a border security bill, we’re going to vote on an interior enforcement bill, like the workplace verification and the visa tracking. We’re going to vote on a legal immigration bill for visas, for agricultural workers, for skilled workers.”
Ryan also said, “We’re going to vote on a bill to legalize people who are undocumented.”
Under such a plan, those who are here illegally would have to wait a minimum of 15 years to gain citizenship, two years longer than the Senate version of immigration reform. But they would be eligible to receive a “probationary visa,” Ryan said.
As other conservatives have begun to say, Ryan’s believes the red line is not “citizenship” but “a special pathway to citizenship.” (“We want to make sure the law does not reward people for quote, unquote, cutting in line. We want to make sure that that person who came here legally in the first place who waited patiently, that they’re respected by being at the front of the line.”) On his congressional Web site he lays out in greater detail what he has in mind, including border security (“we need an independent third-party to certify that metrics have been met and we have achieved operational control and situational awareness of our borders”), enforcement of the law, enhanced legal immigration and a way to give people “a chance to get right with the law.” Here’s what the last item entails:
That means we need to find a way forward for the “DREAMers.” These are unauthorized immigrants whose parents brought them here as children. They didn’t break the law; their parents did. They grew up in our country, and now they are pursuing an advanced degree or serving in our military. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) are working on a bill, the KIDS Act, to solve this problem.
But we also have to deal with the rest of the undocumented population. After discussing it with residents of southern Wisconsin and colleagues, here’s what I think they should do: They should go through a lengthy period of legal probation—or “deferred adjudication”—with a one-strike policy. That means if they violate the terms of their probation, they are immediately deported. They must come forward, admit guilt, submit to a criminal-background check, pay back taxes and fines, and learn English and civics. They must prove they have a job and they must not receive any federal benefits.
Those who don’t come forward must promptly leave the country or be immediately deported. But if they successfully serve out the terms of their probation, if they wish to pursue the opportunity for U.S. citizenship, they will then need to go to the back of the line and apply—just like everyone else—for a green card or legal permanent resident (LPR) status through existing legal channels. In accordance with existing law, five years after they have gotten their green card or entered LPR status, they should then be able to apply for citizenship—just like everyone else. The process the House is discussing would be lengthier than the 13-year process in the Senate-passed bill and would offer no special pathway to citizenship. The process to get a green card and become a citizen would be no different than it is now under existing law.
Aside from the length of the wait, Ryan states, “Only after the border has been independently certified as secure and employment verification and visa tracking systems have been implemented can we allow the 11 million illegal immigrants to exit probationary status and take the next step toward full legal status in the U.S.”
If this is the direction Ryan is heading in — a series of bills (not one giant one) that requires actual border security certification and a longer road to citizenship, achievable only if border security can be obtained, he may be able to get a majority of Republicans on board. Will Democrats like it? Probably not, but they risk losing the Senate this year so this might be the best they can do and the only opportunity for a real accomplishment before the midterms (and in Obama’s second term). In some sense it doesn’t matter if Dems agree; if the GOP can put forth a credible immigration bill that contains elements voters in polling routinely say they want then they can get past their immigration woes and begin to recast the party’s image.
This comes at a time when the Chamber of Commerce is announcing an all-hands-on-deck effort to get immigration reform done this year. A USA Today report notes:
The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce pledged Wednesday to ramp up the group’s lobbying on immigration legislation and to play a bigger role in electing pro-business candidates in November’s midterm congressional elections.
The nation’s largest business-lobbying group “will pull out the stops” to encourage Congress to pass a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, chamber president Tom Donohue said during his annual “State of American Business” speech.
Donohue said the group is prepared to spend heavily to ensure lawmakers pass pro-business measures in an election year when it’s often hard to enact any laws, much less controversial bills such as immigration.
In short, in the post-shutdown world with GOP leadership and mainstream Republicans perking up, immigration reform might just be possible. Interestingly, while pro-immigration reform advocates are organizing, the Center for immigration Studies (CIS), the leading anti-immigration group (treated respectfully as a legitimate group by members of Congress) is out making anti-immigrant, arguably racist remarks, arguing Hispanics as a group lack family values. CIS’s Stephen Steinlight also hysterically claimed immigration reform would “would subvert our political life by destroying the Republican Party. The Hispanic vote will make the Democrats the PRI of America.” (Conservatives who oppose immigration reform would do well to distance themselves from such cranks, lest they be accused of sharing such views.)
So really the question becomes: Do House Republicans want to run as Ryan Republicans or as CIS Republicans?