Democrats Eye Immigration Plan

Posted March 11, 2008 at 6:39pm

Facing an effort by House Republicans to force a floor vote on a border enforcement bill, House Democratic leaders intensified efforts Tuesday to craft compromise legislation that would provide temporary visas to most illegal immigrants and revive expired temporary-worker programs.

Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) was leading efforts behind the scenes to unite the party’s various factions.

“We’re not there yet but we’re closer than we’ve ever been,” Emanuel said of the talks Tuesday afternoon. “We’re making good progress, but as you well know this is a complicated process.”

House leaders, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and sponsors of bills to extend temporary-worker visas and impose new border security measures all were actively negotiating a compromise throughout the day Tuesday and into Tuesday night.

“We’re all trying to come together and forge a compromise and we all have to give and take,” said Hispanic caucus Chairman Joe Baca (D-Calif.). Baca said Hispanics continue to demand visas for illegal immigrants, although he said that they are willing to give ground from an earlier proposal that would grant five-year visas to illegal immigrants who pass background checks and pay fines. Baca said the length of time for the visa would shrink, but still be long enough to give the next Congress and president time to decide what to do next.

“It’s not the best bill, but I think it’s something we can all live with,” Baca said. “We’re in the process of putting all this together on a bipartisan basis.”

Baca said the compromise would include some of the enforcement language in the border enforcement bill proposed by Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) as well as the visas for temporary workers sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.).

Baca said the bill would make America safer by taking 12 million to 14 million illegal immigrants into the light of day.

“The system has been broken for years. You have got to address it. We’re elected to stand up and make decisions.”

Baca vowed to kill any enforcement-only proposal unless the concerns of the Hispanic Caucus are addressed.

“It’ll never make it to the floor and if it does, it’ll die,” he vowed of Shuler’s bill, after Republican leaders threw their weight behind a discharge petition Tuesday in an attempt to force a vote.

Stupak said there is a growing understanding that if anything will move on immigration this year, it has to address some of the concerns from the Hispanic caucus.

“Members are coming in to that reality, which makes it easier,” Stupak said. “If you don’t deal with the 12 to 14 million, then you can’t deal with enforcement because it won’t come to the floor. If you are going to deal with immigration, you’ve got to deal with both parts of it. Do we continue to ignore the 12 to 14 million people? … In all honesty, you can’t pass a law telling them all to go home.”

That being said, Stupak said the compromise bill in the works will only be a short-term fix.

“We are in a political year. We know comprehensive immigration reform can’t move. But can we do something in the interim so the next president, whomever he or she may be, has an easier time in dealing what is a very complex issue?”

Stupak said that a number of sympathetic Republicans are being apprised of the negotiations, but it remains to be seen if they will support the final product.

Baca, meanwhile, said there is urgency from Hispanics to get visas for illegal immigrants now, so that they would be counted in the 2010 Census. Delaying action for a year or two would effectively exclude them from the Census and result in an undercount for another decade, Baca said.

Republican leaders, meanwhile, appeared likely to reject any visas for illegal immigrants, believing they can continue to score points beating up on Democratic leaders and vulnerable Democrats for inaction.

A House GOP leadership aide predicted that no visas for illegal immigrants would pass muster with House Republicans.

“If it’s four years, if it’s three years, if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it is a duck. Amnesty is amnesty. That’s not going to go over with our Conference.”

Republican leaders upped the ante on the issue Tuesday by backing a discharge petition by Rep. Thelma Drake (R-Va.) to force the Shuler bill to the floor.

“For far too long, the Democratic majority has failed to deal with internal divisions within their Caucus on border security and blocked a vote on this important bill,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said.

Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) noted that the bill has nearly 50 Democratic co-sponsors and urged them to sign the discharge petition. “Sadly, we have once again been forced to bypass the majority’s leadership to try and bring a common-sense bill to secure our borders to the floor of the House,” Blunt said.

Democrats privately expressed confidence that a discharge petition would fail, as it would be a direct assault on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and leadership, which few Democrats are likely to risk.

Stupak is a co-sponsor of the Shuler bill and praised many of its provisions, but said that it didn’t make sense to do more border security without addressing other concerns, and said he would not sign a discharge petition.

Stupak said Congress had already adopted six pages’ worth of border security measures in the past two years. “You can’t address one side without the other,” he said.

Baca added that Republicans risk hurting Sen. John McCain’s (Ariz.) campaign for president unless they show a willingness to move beyond border enforcement. “It creates another Pete Wilson syndrome,” he said of the former California governor, who was noted for tough policies on illegal immigration. “If they want to build any kind of support from Hispanics, that’s a deathbed.”