The GOP leadership, as expected, rolled out its immigration reform principles. Also as expected, the irreversibly anti-immigration reform crowd — the people who previously claimed the problem was citizenship — labeled the bare outline as, and you knew this was coming, “amnesty.” They certainly revealed themselves to be opposed to any immigration reform, whatever it may look like. The question now is where we go from here.
The one-pager included the anticipated provisions: an entry/exit visa tracking system, enhanced border security, workplace verification, enhanced legal immigration for high-skilled workers (“Visa and green card allocations need to reflect the needs of employers and the desire for these exceptional individuals to help grow our economy”), a guest-worker program and “an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship” for the DREAMers. On the sticky subject of the 11 million illegal immigrants here already, the language was ever-so vague:
Our national and economic security depend on requiring people who are living and working here illegally to come forward and get right with the law. There will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation’s immigration laws — that would be unfair to those immigrants who have played by the rules and harmful to promoting the rule of law. Rather, these persons could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits). Criminal aliens, gang members, and sex offenders and those who do not meet the above requirements will not be eligible for this program. Finally, none of this can happen before specific enforcement triggers have been implemented to fulfill our promise to the American people that from here on, our immigration laws will indeed be enforced.
The proposal drew praise from liberal and conservative pro-immigration groups and pro-immigration senators. The huffy anti-immigration types were unmoved. The reaction of the House conference, from sketchy reports, seemed to be as positive as pro-reformers reasonably could have expected. In other words, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and other House leaders weren’t run out of the room.
In one sense, it’s positive that the GOP conference was having this conversation in the first place. And the conference, I understand, had an actual conversation with members other than Ryan offering views. There is no indication, however, that consensus was reached on how to proceed. The only clear agreement seems to be that the House will not follow the Senate model and will move at its own speed and more cautiously than did the “Gang of Eight.”
On CNN with Jake Tapper, Ryan reflected his party’s concern that a major stumbling block is the president’s propensity to cherry-pick which parts of legislation he will follow. (“So the approach that people like me want to take is it’s not trust but verify. It’s verify and then trust. Verify that we have the border secure. Verify that we have interior support. Verify that we have the right rule of law, reforms in place so we don’t have this problem 10, 15 years down the road while we fix the broken legal immigration system.”) But of course, the whole thing could go into effect after President Obama leaves office. As for the conference, he would only say that “we’re going to have a conversation with ourselves in our caucus about how best to advance these things. Immigration is important for America but it’s also very important in this post- 9/11 environment to secure our borders.”
Immigration reform, despite the best efforts of the anti-immigration hysterics, has not died. Comprehensive immigration reform of the type Ryan outlined remains popular with the country as a whole and among Republicans. Reform made it through the Senate. The process continues in the House. Optimism may not be in order, but for now there’s no reason to despair.