The “gang of eight” — of which McCain, left, and Schumer are members — announced its immigration proposal Thursday, saying the bill represents one of Congress’ best chances to pass meaningful bipartisan legislation.
Immigrants would have to jump through a number of hoops to obtain legal status, including paying fines, fees and back taxes; undergoing background checks; learning English; and proving employment status. The bill also would create new guest worker programs for lower-skilled and agricultural workers, increase the number of high-skilled temporary visas and expand the number of green cards issued every year.
For Democrats, the bill represents the fulfillment of a campaign promise to Hispanic voters. For Republicans, it’s a way to dilute the Democrats’ appeal to a growing and increasingly powerful demographic group.
“Republicans have got to compete for the Hispanic voter,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said. Passing the immigration bill “puts us on a level where we can compete in the battle of ideas.”
But getting the bill through Congress won’t be easy. Earlier efforts in 2006 and 2007 crumbled in part because of Republicans concerns about granting “amnesty” to those who broke the law to move to the United States. And those concerns have not gone away.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a vociferous critic of a comprehensive immigration overhaul, would not rule out a filibuster of the bill if it gets through the Judiciary Committee. “We’ll see how it goes,” Sessions said.
Sessions and Sen. David Vitter, R-La. — who were joined by a smattering of law enforcement professionals — held a rival news conference denouncing the bill at about the same time the group of eight senators were unveiling it. Sessions opposes the bill’s path to citizenship and its language giving unauthorized immigrants the option for a temporary legal status before steps have been taken to secure the border. Sessions said the measure does not address the issue of allowing law enforcement officials to enforce existing laws.
Should the bill get out of the Senate, it could run into trouble in the House. House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., is promising to modify the bill to toughen the border security provisions and expand the guest worker programs.
“While the bill makes a good-faith effort to overhaul our broken immigration system, there are some flaws which could lead to the same problems in the future that we have today,” Goodlatte said.
Of course, Goodlatte is far from the only player in the chamber. A separate bipartisan group of House lawmakers has been working quietly to forge their own compromise, which they say could be unveiled soon.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.