A bipartisan team of eight senators have joined forces to try and fix an immigration system that everyone suddenly wants to change. Indeed, a day ahead of President Obama's major policy speech in Nevada, the immigration issue appears to have become so popular that it has created an odd alliance amongst a group of lawmakers who don't have a lot in common — and usually can't agree on anything. The lead names on the new immigration proposal will be Charles Schumer and John McCain, but will also include Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, and Michael Bennet of Colorado, with South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, Arizona's Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Florida's Marco Rubio joining from the Republican side.
The one thing these eight seem to have in common right now is that they all have pretty safe jobs and don't have to worry about primary battles any time soon. The Senators will formally unveil the plan this afternoon at 2:30 p.m., but you can already read the bullet points that were released Monday morning. Whether the plan will look anything like a bill that actually makes it to a vote in Congress, of course, remains to be seen.
The key member of the proposal appears to be Marco Rubio, who already published a Sunday op-ed defending the reforms in his old hometown paper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The president will be delivering his own immigration speech in Las Vegas tomorrow.) Rubio is the ideal leader for the GOP side, given that he's the son of immigrants; a well-liked politician in an immigrant-heavy state; and a potential new standard bearer for the Republican Party — a party that desperately needs to win over more immigrant voters. Leading a bipartisan effort to fix one of America's thorniest problems will certainly help his credentials for 2016.
The key plank of the proposal is a plan that would allow people already in the country illegally a route back to full citizenship. If they register with the government, pass a background check proving they haven't committed any serious crimes, then pay their back taxes and fines, they'll be placed on probationary status. That would allow them to stay and work in the United States, while they get in the "back of the line" for prospective citizenship — behind all the people who came here the legal way, presumably. No one who gets a green card through this new proposal would be able to get one before someone who is currently waiting, which suggests this path may be "fair" but also be very, very long. From the checklist:
In other provisions: Children who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents won't be held responsible for their status, and will face relaxed requirements to gain citizenship. It also allows for a special dispensation for agricultural workers, "due to the utmost importance in our nation maintaing the safety of its food supply." The plan also calls for a new employment verification system and reform of the legal immigration system that is supposed to bring needed workers into the country — but often gets bogged down in mismanaged quotas and red tape. (And there may still be too much of the red tape.)
There are two pretty important caveats to the Senators' proposal, however. The first one is that this is not an actual Senate bill. There will be a lot of negotiation and deal-making before any kind of bill reaches the floor, and whatever does take it to a vote — if it does — will probably look a lot different than the plan being unveiled today.
The second is that no matter what's eventually agreed upon, the entire enterprise relies on finding a solution to one massive problem: border security. The Senators do get credit for admitting this right up front, but other than a vague call for new equipment for the Border Patrol (hello, drones!) and some sort of Southwest political commission, they don't really offer any plans or solutions for a problem that bedeviled the feds for decades. Without a way to actually plug the actual borders, critics have already argued this morning, all the citizenship reforms in the world won't solve much of anything.