Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle appear ready to move on immigration reform this spring, as President Obama prepares to make the issue a “top priority” of his second term.
On Monday, a group of eight senators introduced a framework for immigration-reform legislation that they hope to have ready by March. The plan would establish a “path to citizenship” for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S., contingent on a demonstrated improvement in terms of border security and other enforcement mechanisms. Younger immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents would be given a more streamlined path to citizenship, similar to the so-called DREAM Act.
Several members of the Senate group, which includes Democrats Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), and Michael Bennett (Colo.), along with Republicans John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), and Marco Rubio (Fla.), told reporters at a press conference Monday that they were optimistic about passing a comprehensive reform bill this year.
“We believe this will be the year Congress finally gets it done,” Schumer said, though he also noted that there are “loads of pitfalls” as lawmakers translate the agreed-upon framework into actual legislation. Rubio called it an “important first step in what’s going to be a significant and complicated journey.”
McCain, a prominent supporter of previous failed immigration-reform efforts, was rather blunt when asked why this effort would be more successful. “Elections,” he said. “The Republican party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens,” and immigration is “a preeminent issue with those citizens.”
Rubio, who repeated some of his remarks in Spanish several times during the press conference, said he joined the bipartisan effort because the principles outlined in the agreement were “very similar, if not the same” as those contained in his own immigration proposal, which he described earlier this month in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. That plan has been applauded by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.).
The Florida Republican, considered by many to be a frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, said lawmakers have “an obligation . . . to address the reality of the situation we face” in terms of illegal immigrants already living in the United States.
“We are dealing with 11 million human beings,” he said, although he emphasized that a pathway to citizenship would go forward only once broad enforcement mechanisms were implemented, in addition to “real progress and improvement at the border.”
At the moment, there appears to be at least an initial consensus in Washington as to how to proceed. President Obama, who will discuss his own vision for immigration reform Tuesday at a campaign-style event in Las Vegas, “strongly supports” the Senate framework, Schumer said. That framework also appears to be compatible with a bipartisan proposal in the House of Representatives. Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) announced last week that a group of lawmakers “basically [has] an agreement” after more than three years of secret talks, and said it is “time to deal” on immigration.
“The speaker welcomes the work of leaders like Senator Rubio on this issue, and is looking forward to learning more about the proposal in the coming days,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement Monday.