Senator Marco Rubio is taking the lead in proposing a comprehensive immigration reform bill that GOP bitter enders on immigration will no doubt refer to as “amnesty,” while the rest of the party struggles with how to connect to Hispanic voters on the issue.
The Hill reports on a wide ranging interview Rubio gave to the Wall Street Journal where he outlined his plan:
He struck a middle path in the interview, suggesting solutions that will appease some, but not all, on both sides of the aisle.
His most controversial position comes on a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Rubio believes that there should be a staged process to pursue citizenship; that undocumented immigrants should come forward and go through a process to receive legal status, but should also be able to ultimately achieve citizenship.
“They would have to come forward. They would have to undergo a background check…They would be fingerprinted…They would have to pay a fine, pay back taxes, maybe even do community service. They would have to prove they’ve been here for an extended period of time. They understand some English and are assimilated. Then most of them would get legal status and be allowed to stay in this country,” he said.
“They’d get behind everybody who came before them” in line for citizenship, Rubio adds, but he does believe they should be able to achieve citizenship someday. He also suggested the process should be expedited for young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents.
Rubio suggested that the U.S. needs to “move toward merit and skill-based immigration,” and raise the cap on skilled and entrepreneurial immigrants.
He also stressed the need to revamp the guest-worker system to make sure that the number and type of guest worker visas is sufficient to fulfill the demand in the nation’s farms. But he added that some sort of technological solution, along the lines of the E-Verify system that checks immigration documents, to ensure that those farm workers are following the law.
It seems that Rubio is already going through the planning stages of the reform push; he also suggested the means of getting legislation passed through Congress: Four or five comprehensive bills, rather than one large omnibus, the latter of which has been used to pass health care reform and rankled some Republicans.
But with other politically difficult issues looming, it may be some time before Rubio’s proposal hits the floor.
The best part of Rubio’s plan to my mind is his embrace of incrementalism — moving prudently in passing legislation in several digestible pieces rather than one gigantic, messy bill with myriad unintentional consequences. It may take years to pass the entire package, but better that than making the situation worse by passing something that few lawmakers will have read or understood completely.
Rubio was careful to avoid some of the mistakes made by George W. Bush in his immigration bill, including making it clear that illegal immigrants will have to pass some strict tests in order to stay here and get on a path to citizenship.
The most popular parts of Rubio’s proposal will be the guest worker reforms and a move toward skill based immigration. If we are going to choose who comes to the US and who doesn’t, it will be far better to first allow those with special skills and entrepreneurial talent through the door. Streamlining the legal immigration process will also help in this regard.
But there is a huge hole in Rubio’s proposal; where are the ideas on border security? It will do very little good to give current illegals a “path to citizenship” if we can’t stem the human tide pouring over the borders. Any talk of immigration reform must be predicated on legislation to shore up our southern border. By necessity, this means talking tough to Mexico and other Central American countries, as well as assisting them in growing their own economies to ease pressure on their growing populations to migrate northward. At bottom, our illegal immigration problem is a concern for both sides of the border and can only be dealt with intelligently by involving all countries concerned.
The best that can be said about Rubio’s proposal is that it is a good start. When Congress will find time to take up the issue is another question entirely, but getting out front on immigration as Rubio proposes to do may begin to reverse the toxic reputation the GOP has with the Hispanic community and help them see that the Republican party is a more welcoming place than Democratic propagandists would have them believe.