Friday, July 19, 2013

House "Gang of Seven" Close to a Deal on Reform

Greg Sargent, blogging for the Washington Post

The bipartisan “gang of seven” group of House members negotiating over immigration is closing in on a plan that would include a path to citizenship, but would impose new triggers on citizenship — and new conditions on the initial legal status the undocumented would enjoy — that would put the bill significantly to the right of the Senate effort.

The details on the emerging plan — which were shared with me by an aide to one of the members of the gang — are important, because the tougher conditions it will impose could give some House Republicans a way to embrace comprehensive reform, at a time when many conservatives are still insisting on a “piecemeal” approach or are opposing any action at all. At the same time, it could conceivably be acceptable to some Dems and immigration advocates, too.

More broadly, the emerging plan could provide a test case, or an opportunity, for GOP leaders — such as John Boehner and Paul Ryan — to show they are prepared to lead on immigration by putting their weight behind a compromise proposal that has plenty both sides don’t like, and selling it to their caucus. The hope is it could be difficult for Republican leaders to flatly turn down this compromise if leading Latino Democrats — such as Reps. Luis Gutierrez and Xavier Becerra, both members of the gang — are willing to accept something to the right of the Senate bill on their side.

Here are the details, shared with me by the aide:

* The new plan would take the provisional legal status and right to work granted to the undocumented at the outset and reconfigure it as “probation.” The plan would require undocumented immigrants to admit having broken U.S. laws and admit guilt (in a civil sense), and enter into a probationary phase, during which they’d have very similar legal rights to the ones they would have under the provisional legal status in the Senate bill.

This concession is designed to help Republicans embrace comprehensive reform. It is meant to give Republicans a response to the charge of “amnesty” — the claim that a path to citizenship will reward lawbreakers — by instead requiring the undocumented to take themselves out of the shadows, admit wrongdoing, and put themselves on a species of probation.

* The plan would put in place a new trigger involving E-Verify that would be required to end that period of “probation.” The plan would stipulate that E-Verify — the system to allow businesses to determine eligibility to work in the U.S. — must be fully operational after five years. If it isn’t, all of those on probation would lose that status and revert to illegal status. This is significantly tougher than the Senate bill, which requires E-Verify to be operational for the path to citizenship to be set in motion, but would not revoke provisional legal status if it isn’t operational.

And so this, too, is meant as a way for Republicans who say they want “hard triggers” to support citizenship. This is a hard trigger. And as many immigration advocates argue, it would be a “hard trigger” that directly impacts the border. After all, the thinking goes, if it’s harder for undocumented immigrants to get jobs (as E-Verify is designed to accomplish), they will be far less likely to take the risk of entering the country illegally.

However, at the same time, if E-Verify is operational after five years, undocumented immigrants would at that point leave the “probationary” stage and enter into a temporary legal phase for another five years. At the end of this they would be able to apply for a green card, putting them on a path to citizenship that would end five years later (a total of 15 years).

I was unable to determine who gets to say whether E-Verify is fully operational. But experts following this debate fully expect there to be no problems with getting it to that point in only several years. Indeed, while the above provisions may strike some on the left as onerous, immigration advocates might be able to accept them, albeit grudgingly. That’s because this is a far more achievable trigger than the border security triggers some Republicans (such as John Cornyn) want — while it simultaneously deprives Republicans of another argument (no triggers!!!) against accepting citizenship.

“This House bill is to the right of the Senate bill — the hard trigger on E-Verify will give progressives conniptions and may well even split them,” Frank Sharry, the head of the pro-immigration America’s Voice, tells me. “But if Republicans can garner significant support for the legalization and citizenship in exchange, it will be hard for Democrats and reformers to say No, because the trigger is achievable. It might be the makings of a deal.”

I’m also told that haggling continues, because some Republicans on the gang of seven are still pushing for border triggers to be added to the bill. Thus far, however, Dems have held off that push, and the above could be what the final bill ends up looking like.

Ultimately, what this is all about is finding a way for House Republicans to get to conference negotiations with a bill that includes a path to citizenship. There is no telling whether a majority of House Republicans can bring themselves to embrace the above outline. But the thinking among Dems on the gang of seven is that even if this framework is much more onerous than the Senate bill, it provides at least a chance that Republicans will end up supporting something with citizenship in it. And getting to conference with a package that includes citizenship is preferable to the alternative, because it increases the chances of a good bill at the end.


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