Remember immigration reform? Like Syria, it was a scalding-hot topic for awhile, only to recede to back-burner status as other political conflagrations took its place in the national spotlight. There's been some drama percolating behind the scenes, though, and it looks like the issue may re-emerge in the coming months, as House Republicans have indicated that they'll take it up before the calendar flips to 2014:
House Republicans intensified their outreach to Latino groups last week, offering renewed pledges that the House will deal with immigration reform this year. The effort has revived hope among advocates that a bipartisan deal can be reached to address the fate of the nation’s 11 million undocumented workers and students. The chances of a comprehensive deal passing Congress remain doubtful, advocates cautioned, and they worry that the legislative process will spill into 2014, presenting new complications in a year when lawmakers face reelection battles. But they were encouraged by signals from key GOP leaders that the House is willing to move forward on legislation that could produce a breakthrough in the stalled negotiations. Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said Thursday that his panel is working on four new pieces of legislation dealing with border-control laws. He did not disclose details but emphasized the need to resolve the status of people living in the country illegally.
Lots of caveats there. The House is likely to "deal with" reform, but the bill won't necessarily be "comprehensive," and a key committee chairman is holding his cards close to the vest on how the legal status question will be resolved. House leadership could either break the bill up into bite-sized pieces, or pursue a broader reform package along the lines of Rep. Raul Labrador's proposal. There are two key distinctions between the Labrador plan and the Senate-passed bill: First, Labrador's version requires significant verifiable border security first -- before any form of legalization begins. The Senate bill calls for a near-immediate blanket temporary legalization process for millions, followed by border enforcement measures. Second, the Idaho Republican's proposal wouldn't create any special pathway to citizenship for most newly-legalized immigrants -- with certain exceptions, such as DREAMers. The vast majority of affected immigrants could apply for normalized status, but would be required to go through the same channels as any other immigrant if they wanted to pursue citizenship. With the Senate blueprint effectively DOA in the House, it appears as though a Labrador-style compromise may be in the offing:
Frustrated by inaction in the House, advocates of a broad overhaul of immigration law are considering whether to compromise on a core demand—that the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants be offered a pathway to citizenship…Under this idea, people here illegally would be allowed to live and work in the U.S., and could then apply for green cards, which are hard to obtain but serve as a prelude to citizenship. The bill passed by the Senate this year would make most of the 11 million people here illegally eligible for green cards—or legal permanent residency—after a set period of time, which automatically gives someone the chance to apply for citizenship. “How many of the 11 million would take this deal rather than nothing?” asked Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a business group that backs an immigration overhaul. At a forum last week, she challenged Republicans to offer this deal and Democrats to accept it. “How will Democrats who reject this deal explain themselves to Latino voters?” she asked.
Would this approach satisfy those who are opposed to any reform that blazes a special path to citizenship for those who are here illegally? Non-criminal current illegal immigrants would be able to stay in the US as legal residents, but would have to jump through all the usual hoops, along the standard timeline, if they eventually sought citizenship. Here's a crucial question for immigration reform advocates who are warming up to this potential bargain: Are they also willing to accept enforcement-first border security measures as a prerequisite to the amnesty? The American people are on board with normalization, but they're also overwhelmingly in favor of getting a real handle on the border as a necessary first step. If the House insists on that sequencing, will the Senate balk? Remember, reform advocates killed the relatively mild Cornyn Amendment as being too draconian and demanding. The measure they ended up passing would only stop one-third to one-half of the current volume illegal border crossings, according to a CBO analysis -- a far cry from dealing with the problem "once and for all." This debate isn't academic; recent reports suggest the tide of illegal immigration may be back on the rise.
UPDATE - I'll be participating in a panel discussion about conservatism and immigration reform at CPAC St. Louis on Saturday.