Congress' found its new willingness to tackle immigration reform in mere hours late one Tuesday evening last November, but actually acting has has taken five months and counting.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York announced on Meet the Press yesterday that a group of eight senators had reached "substantive agreement" on an immigration package. The only problem is that the Senate and the House are each working on their own plans, which aren't entirely in sync. And, meanwhile, business and labor groups have come to a separate, though largely complimentary accord. Oh, and one prominent senator, Marco Rubio of Florida, isn't sold on the Senate package — or least is saying he isn't.
There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country currently, and each party has steep considerations that are shaping how they develop a policy solution. Republicans want to ensure that any legislation surrounding their status doesn't give the appearance of their caving on long-standing opposition to what they frame as criminal behavior. Democrats want to ensure that a path to citizenship isn't so onerous that it encourages immigrants to ignore it. Business groups want a plan that allows new workers into the country, but unions want to ensure those workers don't undermine existing employment standards.
Here are the differences between the plans that exist.
Where the Senate stands
Politico outlined the deal described by Schumer. The points of agreement appear to be:
- Before the process of gaining citizenship begins, immigrants would pay a fine of a to-be-determined amount, and undergo a criminal background check.
- It would take over a decade before applicants could become citizens, during which time they would need to learn English and basic American civics.
- Applicants would need to prove an existing work history in the country.
There are also some generally agreed-upon points that haven't been entirely resolved. For example, one issue Politico notes is whether or not there would have to be an official determination that the border is secure before the process could begin. Such a designation brings with it its own array of challenges and disputes. Another tricky point is how much the final green cards for applicants would cost — a potentially prohibitive consideration for low-wage workers.
The Washington Post explains Marco Rubio's stated opposition to the package.
“Reports that the bipartisan group of eight senators have agreed on a legislative proposal are premature,” he said in a statement. Calling for a “healthy public debate” on whatever legislative proposal the Senate group puts forward, Rubio added that “this process cannot be rushed or done in secret.”
Rubio is in one of the more tricky political positions. A likely 2016 contender who won his current office with the support of the Tea Party, he understands the opposition conservative activists often have to both negotiated compromise and to immigration reform in general. As an early proponent of immigration reform, it's likely that his current objections are political — measures that will allow him to offer any needed skepticism in 2016, but with the current knowledge that a deal is likely to go forward.
Where the House stands
Unsurprisingly, the House's proposal is more stringent than the Senate's, though less well articulated. Politico notes that House Republicans want an obvious "obstacle course" for applicants, a course that is difficult enough for those 11 million immigrants that opponents of a plan feel as though it doesn't come easy. They may add one additional component:
A bipartisan negotiating group in the House is even considering having undocumented immigrants “plead guilty” to breaking immigration laws, according to sources involved in the talks.
Where business and labor stand
The Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO have been negotiating for months on what each would find acceptable in a package. During his Meet the Press appearance, Schumer embraced their joint agreement as part of the Senate deal.
Businessweek describes the agreement, which focuses on providing a way for immigrant workers to enter and work in the United States for limited periods — an effort to curtail a resurgence of illegal entry.
The program would start with 20,000 visas in the first year, 35,000 in the second, 55,000 in the third and 75,000 in the fourth. In year five the number would grow or shrink based on a formula that takes into account the unemployment rate, the number of job openings and other factors.
The number of visas awarded annually could never exceed 200,000, and one-third of all visas would go only to businesses with under 25 employees, according to the AFL-CIO. Construction visas would be capped at 15,000 per year, addressing Trumka’s concern about a potentially adverse impact on that industry.
The Times notes that the AFL-CIO's considerations go a step further:
Labor, meanwhile, gets significant worker protections, including the right for immigrants to change jobs and to seek green cards and citizenship if they wish. Labor’s objection to previous guest-worker programs was that they import workers who are shackled to employers and thus acutely vulnerable to exploitation — a recipe for abysmal wages and working conditions for everybody.
Where the public stands
What's interesting is the point on which nearly everyone agrees: There should be a path to citizenship for immigrants. According to a poll released by Pew Research last week, that's even slightly ahead of the American public on the whole. Pew found that only one group — blacks, interestingly — demonstrated a majority of support for a pathway to citizenship as opposed to permanent residency. In every demographic, a majority supported some method of ensuring legal residency for immigrants already in the country.
So why is Congress taking what is an arguably more lenient stance on citizenship than the American public? Because Congress — well, Republicans — see that 49 percent of Latinos and large percentages of young people and independents support taking action.
That's largely the motivation driving former opponents to a pathway to citizenship. The concern is partly about the legal employment status of 11 million undocumented immigrants. But it is also very much about the employment status of the Republican party.