The more deliberate the GOP House has been on immigration reform and the more its leadership has strained to differentiate its position from the Gang of Eight, the more Democrats are sounding accommodating about immigration reform. We can ponder the reasons. Maybe the Senate Democrats are desperate for an achievement. Maybe the White House and Congress realize they are heading for a drubbing in November unless they accomplish something which pleases the Democratic base. Or maybe, they understand they may lose the Senate and now is the best time to get a bill to their liking. A pro-immigration reform Republican is more skeptical, e-mailing, “I bet their strategy is to seem reasonable and wait for enough pressure on the right to kill it, rather than come across as obstinate to a reasonable proposal.”
Nevertheless, it is surprising to many conservative pro-immigration reformers that GOP talk about a bill that legalizes but does not grant a “special pathway” to citizenship has not been rejected out of hand. To the contrary, it sounds from my colleague Greg Sargent’s report, that they fully expect a House bill along the lines and are down to quibbling about the triggers before legalization. Even then, Sargent quotes Frank Sharry, who heads a prominent liberal pro-immigration group (that previously sounded giddy about the House refusing to act and thereby being set up for 2014 attacks) as saying, “We all know triggers are going to be part of a final immigration reform bill. But if Republicans put unworkable triggers before initial legal status for undocumented immigrants — by mandating the nationwide E-Verify system has to be operational, or border security has to be 100% — it will put millions of immigrants out of work before they have a chance to get some sort of provisional status. That would be a deal-killer for immigration reform.” Umm, so less than 100 percent might fly?
It is much too early to tell what the House will come up with. Democrats may be negotiating among themselves on triggers, but, as one senior House aide told me, “I just hope we can get this off the ground in our conference. That’s no sure thing.” That said, the possibility that Democrats will not declare a legalization plan to be a hateful scheme to keep Hispanic immigrants as “second class citizens,” does several things to move the process ahead.
First, it allows Senate Republicans who objected to the earned citizenship formula in the Gang of Eight bill to get on board with immigration reform and not lose face. They can declare victory (No citizenship except for DREAMers!), express all the contempt they want for Sen. Marco Rubio’s negotiating skills, but then figure out how to pass something.
Second, it reveals all the Senate posturing, especially by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), that citizenship was necessary to any deal to be, well, hogwash. (Whether Schumer meant it at the time is up for debate.)
Third, with Democrats essentially inviting a non-citizenship plan, Republicans can be confident that simply passing a bill through the House along the terms House leaders have previously described will earn them some credit. If legalization is good enough for Sharry, then the House GOP can get credit for it, even if it doesn’t ultimately pass.
We’ll see in the next week or so which side is “serious” about doing something. One telltale sign we’re not getting anywhere will be a Democratic backlash in the Senate against any bill that doesn’t give 11 million people the potential for relatively easy citizenship. Once you get past that issue the rest is just bargaining out the details.