Senators behind a bipartisan immigration overhaul declared their efforts to craft legislation “a major breakthrough” and hope to pass it by this summer.
In unveiling a set of principles for enhancing border security, providing a pathway to citizenship and creating an employee verification system, the eight senators noted they still have to actually write the bill.
“We still have a long way to go, but this bipartisan movement is a major breakthrough,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who is a member of Democratic leadership and chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s immigration, refugees and border security subcommittee.
He continued, “It’s our hope that these bipartisan principles can be turned into legislation by March and a markup [in the Judiciary Committee] with the goal of passage out of the Senate by late spring or summer.”
The group of senators who drafted the principles includes Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeff Flake of Arizona. Along with Schumer, the Democrats include Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado.
Schumer, Durbin, Menendez, McCain and Rubio represented the group at a press conference Monday.
Schumer said he and Durbin had spoken with President Barack Obama Sunday to update him on the group’s progress. “He couldn’t be more pleased. He strongly supports this effort,” Schumer said of the president.
Obama is scheduled to give a speech Tuesday in Las Vegas laying out his vision for a comprehensive overhaul of immigration policy.
Asked if they were trying to overshadow the president by making their announcement before his speech, McCain said, “We think this helps the president.”
“Time is of the essence,” Menendez said.
Members of the group also said they are optimistic about avoiding the pitfalls that doomed previous immigration overhaul efforts.
McCain, who was involved in the failed 2007 effort to pass immigration legislation, said the election made the difference in changing the attitudes of Republicans who had previously opposed such efforts.
“The Republican party is losing the support of our Hispanic voters,” McCain said.
“Also ... we cannot continue as a nation with 11 million people residing in the shadows,” McCain continued. He said, if the group is successful, it would be due, in part, to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., “who laid the groundwork for this agreement.”
Schumer said the public’s attitude has changed on the issue.
“Four years ago, people, they said, ‘Fix the border,’” Schumer said. “Now they much prefer a comprehensive solution, including a path to citizenship as well as fixing the border. When you look at the polling data, Democrats, independents and Republicans agree with that and people in the North, South, East and West agree with that. So the public is yearning for real change now.”
The principles include creating “a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required.” The senators also included a version of the DREAM Act, which would provide a separate path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came the United States as minors.
The group also calls for creating “an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers.”
And the lawmakers want to “establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., endorsed the effort as he opened the Senate this afternoon. “This is a positive first step. The real test will be to pass a bill,” he said.
After chiding Republicans for not supporting previous immigration bills, Reid said, “nothing short of bipartisan success is acceptable to me.”
Reid also said legislation must be comprehensive and include a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, although they have to learn English, work, pay taxes and stay out of trouble while also going to the end of the line behind those who have legally applied for citizenship. That statement tracks with the bipartisan agreement, as well.
But Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, a former House Judiciary Committee chairman who still serves on that panel’s immigration subcommittee, said the Senate proposal “actually compounds the problem by encouraging more illegal immigration.”
“No one should be surprised that individuals who have supported amnesty in the past still support amnesty,” Smith said of the senators involved in the effort. “When you legalize those who are in the country illegally, it costs taxpayers millions of dollars, costs American workers thousands of jobs and encourages more illegal immigration.”