What was a political impossibility before the 2012 election is now a reality: 8 senators (4 Democrats, 4 Republicans) have reached a deal on the most contentious part of a comprehensive immigration package: a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S. This “pathway” would be no cakewalk: illegal immigrants would have to register with the Department of Homeland Security, pay back taxes for their time in the U.S. and pay a fine. They would have to have a clean criminal record. Once that was all done, they would be granted probationary status, which would allow them to work legally in the U.S., but they would not qualify for a host of government benefits, including Medicaid and unemployment benefits.
With all of THAT done, it’s still undecided how long they would have to wait to become full citizens, but it will probably be ten or more years. There are still significant details for the eight senators to hash out before it’s all codified into legislation and presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee, something the group was hoping to do before the Senate’s Easter break, but is now more likely to happen in April.
The eight senators are a combination of power players, including the second and third top Senate Democrats, Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Charles Schumer (N.Y.), and border state Senators like Arizona Republicans Jeff Flake and John McCain. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Michael Bennett (D-Colo.) don’t have a land border with another country, but they do house a lot of immigrants, illegal and legal. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) round out the group.
Democrats Strong Enough?
Two related thoughts here: while this deal would be a hard one to turn down for illegal immigrants (if anyone was asking them), applying for citizenship initially makes their lives more difficult, not less. While they aren’t likely to have much to pay in back taxes, seeing as illegal immigrants typically don’t make a lot of money, back taxes plus the fine will be a significant cost for people and families that don’t have a lot to spare. What that gets them is the security of not being deported. Illegal immigrants already live with that risk, so their choice, assuming they have a clean criminal record, would be to pay to make that risk go away. Many will take that deal, but for some, applying for citizenship would eat up their grocery money, and they will be disinclined to take the deal.
On a related note, John McCain told me I couldn’t follow him into the meeting room, so I wasn’t privy to the negotiations, but can’t Democrats push for more here? They don’t want to jeopardize a deal, but surely they could take steps to make this pathway less onerous and shorter. The probationary period could be cut in half and still be really long, and the fine could be a prerequisite for eventual green-card status, but not due immediately. Romney lost the Latino vote by 50 points. Republicans should be the ones stretching to make a deal.
As for Democrats who worry that the House is going to have a conniption fit once this reaches them, that’s going to happen anyway. If they want to hem and haw and further alienate the Latino community, let them, but there’s no need to come in compromising.