The group of 8 bi-partisan Senators who have been trying to hammer out a comprehensive immigration reform bill have reportedly agreed to a path to citizenship for illegal aliens.
According to aides familiar with the closed-door negotiations, the bill would require illegal immigrants to register with Homeland Security Department authorities, file federal income taxes for their time in America and pay a still-to-be-determined fine. They also must have a clean law enforcement record.
Once granted probationary legal status, immigrants would be allowed to work but would be barred from receiving federal public benefits, including food stamps, family cash assistance, Medicaid and unemployment insurance.
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The group’s current draft is largely in line with President Obama’s call to set a pathway to earned citizenship as part of a broader immigration reform package, as well as with recent efforts by prominent Republican lawmakers to resolve an issue that hurt GOP candidates in November’s election.
Though the draft is a long way from becoming law, immigration advocates expressed guarded optimism about a possible breakthrough.
“Nine months ago, people would have thought you were nuts to say that four Republicans and four Democrats were working on a way to legalize 11 million people,” said Angela Kelley, an immigration expert at the Center for American Progress, a think tank with close ties to the White House. “It’s a Rubik’s Cube, but more sides are matching in color than ever before. That’s significant.”
Still undecided is how long illegal immigrants would need to wait before they could apply for permanent resident status and eventually become citizens. The delay for a green card probably would be 10 years or longer, the aides said.
Also unresolved are such politically charged topics as how many visas to issue to high-tech specialists and other guest workers; how to keep track of when visitors leave the country; and how to pay for more Border Patrol officers, fencing and other security measures in an era of shrinking budgets, the aides said.
If all Democrats and all 4 Republican Senators on the bi-partisan committee support the bill, Harry Reid would only need to corral one more GOP member to win a cloture vote. It seems fairly certain, then, that immigration reform has a good chance to pass the Senate.
It seems equally certain that the bill has little chance in the GOP House — not with a path to citizenship included. House members might trade an expanded guest worker program and some sort of accommodation for the children of illegal immigrants for increased border security, but even that would face a stern test.
House Whip Kevin McCarthy says that the GOP leadership is prepared to pass immigration reform without most of the caucus going along. That may be, but the whip should probably do some nose counting; the path to citizenship is almost universally opposed by GOP House members and even if all the Democrats agreed, McCarthy will find it difficult to scrounge up the extra 16 Republican members he would need for passage.
President Obama seems to be in no mood to help the Republicans deal with their unpopularity with Hispanics, and appears content to continue to play politics with the issue of immigration. Something will probably get done on immigration reform, but what that might be is still up in the air.