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One of the most important parts of a comprehensive immigration bill - a part not even mentioned by President Obama in his speech on Tuesday - is the future flow of workers in to the US. Merely dealing with people in the US today or currently waiting in line for green cards and pouring money in to enforcement are not enough. In a few years if we have low unemployment and there are jobs in the US that are not being filled by Americans, people WILL find a way to get here and we'll once again have a huge illegal immigration problem if there is no workable guest worker program available to employers.
The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that the Senate negotiators have asked the US Chamber and the AFL-CIO and SEIU, two of the country's largest unions, to hammer out the framework for a guestworker visa. The organizations have been meeting regularly over the last few months and are working out details that will presumably make there way in to an immigration bill. They are working on issues like the size of the program, recruiting requirements, a path to permanent residency for guest workers who want it, etc.
The good news is that both sides report the negotiations are going well. That's critical since there are only a few weeks left before the big bill will be introduced.
The media has been focusing on how the Administration's immigration proposal differs from the one proposed Monday by the Gang of Eight's. And that's probably to the liking of everyone. The media loves to focus on conflict. Pro-immigration Republicans get to sound like they are not simply following the marching orders of the President. And the White House keeps immigration reform moving forward. If the Senate bill ultimately gets to President Obama's desk, he WILL sign it. And history will give him the credit.
So where are the differences? The Washington Post has a good run down. The most talked about is the President creating a path to citizenship at the outset rather than after benchmarks are reached. The White House proposal also deals with same sex couples, but doesn't have a special path to citizenship for agricultural workers. There are other provisions that made it in to one summary and not the other, but that doesn't mean there are actual policy differences. The immigration reform bill is likely going to be over 1000 pages and a lot of items are not likely included in the summary because they are small items or because they simply were not on the radar screen of either the Senate group or the White House. For example, the Senate proposal doesn't have much to say on skilled workers or on ending per country limits. But they're likely going to incorporate the I-Squared bill introduced yesterday which has a lot of reforms in those areas.
Want to know what the skilled worker sections of the big immigration reform bill are likely to include. Read the I-Squared Act of 2013, introduced today by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and seven other Democrats and Republicans. It's what is called a marker bill, meaning that it is not likely to pass by itself but is going to be the model for skilled worker sections of the comprehensive bill coming next month. The full text of I-Squared 2013 can be found here.
Embedded here is a detailed summary of the bill. There's a lot to like and I dare say that this bill alone could be one of the most effective economic stimulus measures Congress could pass to get the US economy humming.
Summary of I-Squared Act of 2013
Yesterday, I heard excerpts of Limbaugh sounding somewhat resigned to the fact that immigration reform's time has probably come, but I would not consider him a supporter. Today, Marco Rubio went on his show to make the case to the country's Dittoheads and believes he persuaded the king of conservative radio. And something very interesting is going on. Rubio is trying to make the case that the President is really not on board with the Gang of Eight's enforcement before citizenship idea. Why would he do this when the President really has not said this? Because if conservative talk radio can make supporting the Senate plan somehow a vote against the President, then it makes swallowing the rest of the plan a lot easier.
And to that I say, whatever floats your boat. Obviously, we need a real way to achieve earned permanent residency. But if it has to wait until benchmarks in the bill are achieved, I think a lot of the pro-immigration advocates can live with that.
President Obama gave a memorable address today on the need to move immigration reform. He largely laid out the same case that the Gang of Eight Senators did yesterday. But he made clear that if the Senate and House get bogged down in bickering, he'll push his own version of a reform bill and force Republicans to vote no, something that could haunt the GOP for years. From the speech:
So -- so we know where the consensus should be. Now, of course, there will be rigorous debate about many of the details, and every stakeholder should engage in real give-and-take in the process. But it’s important for us to recognize that the foundation for bipartisan action is already in place. And if Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away.
As I noted yesterday, one potential problem area in the framework for immigration reform is determining when the path can eventually be cleared for pursuing green cards for immigrants who have paid their debt to the US under the legalization program. We know that they will need to wait until after those currently waiting in a queue for a green card have completed the process. Fair enough. We also know that an entry-exit system will need to be in place at the US border. Also fair enough. But Congress will also likely require a demonstration that the border is "secure" and that's where a fight is likely to take place The framework mentions a commission of governors and attorneys general in southwest border states making a determination. The first question is whether that commission's findings will be just a recommendation or will actually be enough on its own to stop the process. It's hard to imagine someone like Jan Brewer ever - EVER - saying anything that would result in Latinos in her state getting to move to becoming voting citizens.
That's why I hope that the real standard for determining whether the border is secure will be based on things we can actually count - the number of Border Patrol agents on the border, whether the net amount of illegal immigration is declining, whether all of the new technical equipment being promised in the bill is actually put in place, etc. What would not be reasonable is saying that all illegal crossings have ceased. That is simply not going to happen and to insist on this is really just saying one is anti-immigration, not just anti-illegal immigration. The Wall Street Journal explores this topic here.
It seems to depend on which newspaper you read.
The Washington Post has a story with the headline "McConnell gives bipartisan immigration reform a boost." According to the Post:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday that fixing the nation’s broken immigration system and improving border security are “crucial objective that our nation needs to address,” offering a key boost to a bipartisan effort to reform immigration laws.
McConnell stopped short of fully endorsing the new Senate framework. But he praised the group for their “hard work.”
The AP spun things a little differently:
But the senators quickly encountered a cool reaction from other lawmakers, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who said immigration legislation is too important to be written in a back room.
Two prominent Republicans on the House Immigration Subcommittee gave some love to their colleagues on the other side of the Hill when they praised yesterday's unveiling of a framework for an immigration reform bill.
By far the more surprising one is Iowa Representative Steve King, lgenerally considered the most vocal anti-immigrant in Washington. From Talking Points Memo:
Rep. Steve King (R-IA), one of the most staunchly conservative members of the House, said on Monday that he broadly agreed with a bipartisan Senate agreement that would reform the nation's immigration laws.
"I agree with most of the language in the very broad guidelines," King said in a cheeky statement.
Now if you read the article you'll see that he's hardly turned 180 degrees. But his remarks are hardly the rebuke I would have expected.
Just as important is what was said by Trey Gowdy, the new Chair of the House Immigration Subcommittee. He issued a statement yesterday saying
"The current immigration system is broken and inspires confidence in no one. So, proposals which balance the humanity which defines us as a people with respect for the rule of law which defines us as a republic are welcome."
It wasn't all rosy on the House GOP side. Lamar Smith issued a statement blasting the plan.
But perhaps the most important person in the entire immigration debate is House Speaker John Boehner. He'll have to decide whether to invoke the "Hastert Rule" where Republican Speakers traditionally won't bring a measure up for a vote unless they believe that a majority of Republicans will support it. He's broken that rule a couple of times lately and if he does so on immigration, the chances of the bill passing increase dramatically. Boehner was pretty non-committal on Monday. According to the Washington Post:
A spokesman for Boehner (R-Ohio) said he “welcomes the work of leaders like Senator Rubio on this issue and is looking forward to learning more about the proposal in the coming days.”