Immigration fight coming to a head

Immigration fight coming to a head
Immigration fight coming to a head
Associated Press

Half of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” immigration working group toured the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona yesterday, with Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) getting a first-hand look at ongoing enforcement efforts before unveiling their bipartisan, comprehensive plan.

“The bottom line is we’re very close,” Schumer told reporters, referencing the unfinished legislation. “I’d say we’re 90 percent there.”

President Obama certainly hopes so. He told Univision yesterday he’s ready to stand behind the bipartisan plan, and he’s counting on it being “before the Senate” in April.

But while the legislative machinations continue, Brian Beutler flags a story that went largely overlooked the other day. (“CIR” refers to “comprehensive immigration reform.”)

The short version is that Janet Napolitano sat down with reporters yesterday and effectively rejected one of the GOP’s key CIR demands – that any path to citizenship remain locked until border security is strengthened to meet some measurable, yet to be determined standard.

She essentially said that creating such a metric is exceedingly complicated – perhaps impossible – and that even if DHS could devise one, it wouldn’t be sound or just to keep 11 million undocumented immigrants in limbo for as long as it might take to limit crossings, reduce crime, improve property values, and so on and so on along the southwest border.

In other words, if CIR includes a “triggered” path to citizenship, it will almost certainly be an ersatz trigger.

This is obviously important. We don’t yet know exactly what the bipartisan plan will include – even the so-called “gang” doesn’t know, since their bill isn’t finished – but Napolitano has already said the pound of flesh Republicans are demanding is simply “not the way to go.”

And that complicates matters a bit.

The devil will, of course, be in the details, but the talk on the right in recent weeks has been focused on immigration “triggers” – the parts of the bill that Democrats like can be included, but they’ll be put on hold for a while, until the enforcement parts of the bill that Republicans like have been fully implemented and proven effective. Like what? We have no idea; they haven’t said.

Napolitano effectively dismissed this as nonsense the other day, and it seems likely given her post, that her opinions reflect that of the Obama administration.

In terms of the politics, this creates a couple of interesting angles. For one thing, it’s a reminder that Democrats generally believe they have the upper hand in this process, and aren’t jumping at the chance to embrace Republican demands just for the sake of advancing a bill.

For another, it’ll be worth watching to see what far-right senators who want comprehensive reform do in response to Democratic skepticism. Will Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), for example, abandon the entire process over “trigger” provisions, or can he be placated by more sensible alternatives?

One more thing to keep an eye on: there’s a simmering fight between labor and Big Business, both of which are on board with comprehensive reform in the abstract, over “how much immigrants should be paid under a proposed new visa category for entry-level jobs.” John Stanton had a good piece on this the other day.