A good compromise for both sides. Evelyne M. Hart
5 things you should know about immigration reform
Washington (CNN) — Advocates for comprehensive immigration reform won their first major legislative victory this week when the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 to approve the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” plan.
If enacted, the measure will create a 13-year path to citizenship for most of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
It aims to strengthen border security while raising the cap on visas for high-skilled workers and establishing a new visa program for low-skilled workers on America’s farms and elsewhere.
Here are five key things to know about the state of play on this issue:
1) There’s still a long way to go
The Judiciary Committee’s 13-5 vote was significant partly because three Republicans — Arizona’s Jeff Flake, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, and Utah’s Orrin Hatch — joined the panel’s Democrats in backing the measure. Now, however, attention turns to the full Senate, where the level of GOP support remains an open question.
Assuming every member of the Democratic caucus backs the bill, five Republicans will be needed to ensure it receives the 60 votes needed to pass the 100-member chamber. The bill’s backers have been hoping for as many as 70 votes, in order to give the proposal significant bipartisan momentum heading into the tougher GOP-controlled House.
And make no mistake — serious momentum will be needed in the House, where conservatives remain deeply skeptical about any measure offering a path to citizenship. A lot of conservatives consider that to be amnesty, which may as well be a four-letter word in this debate.
Meanwhile, several House Democrats and Republicans have been working on their own reform plan. If they can get it through the House — a big if — they’d have to reconcile it with the Senate plan in a conference committee. And assuming that can be done, both chambers would then have to pass the compromise legislation.
2) The Gang of Eight remains unified
Eight men put the Senate bill together — Graham, Flake, Florida Republican Marco Rubio, Arizona Republican John McCain, New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet, and New York Democrat Chuck Schumer. Each of the eight has promised to oppose any major changes to the bill.
During Judiciary Committee’s consideration of roughly 300 proposed amendments, Flake and Graham repeatedly sided with the panel’s Democrats in opposing significant changes offered by their fellow conservatives. Schumer and Durbin voted against some amendments proposed by more liberal members, even though the pair said they supported the ideas.
Rubio was disappointed that the committee rejected an amendment requiring the use of biometrics — such as fingerprints — for visa holders at all of the country’s entry and exit points. But he hasn’t dropped his support for the overall bill.
“Everybody needs to know it — who’s calling the shots,” conservative Alabama GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions said at one recent Judiciary Committee meeting on the bill. The answer, at least so far, remains the “Gang of Eight.”
3) Immigration reform is still Obama’s best shot for a major second-term legislative win
Why? Democrats are basically unified on the issue, while Republicans are divided. When the Judiciary Committee passed the bill Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said he was “hopeful we’ll be able to get a bill that we can pass here in the Senate.”
McConnell praised the “Gang of Eight” for making a “substantial contribution to moving the issue forward.”
Nothing focuses a politician’s attention like an election loss, and Republicans were thumped last year by the country’s growing Hispanic population. Latinos backed President Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by a 44-point margin. GOP strategists are concerned about the party’s long term viability in national elections if that trend is not reversed.
Some congressional conservatives say opposing the “Gang of Eight” immigration reform plan is a matter of principle and they won’t bend. But others might. This is a rare moment when the two political priorities may overlap just enough to make Capitol Hill a productive place.
4) The bill won’t be used to advance gay rights
In fact, in a defeat for backers of expanded gay rights, the Senate committee did not approve a pair of amendments sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, bolstering federal support for bi-national same-sex relationships.
Specifically, Leahy had proposed recognizing same-sex marriages in which one spouse is an American, and allowing U.S. citizens to sponsor foreign-born same-sex partners for green cards given proof of a committed relationship.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the most prominent Republican in the “Gang of Eight,” was among those who called Leahy’s amendments a poison pill virtually certain to destroy GOP support for the measure.
5) Polls — what does the public think?
According to recent polls, most Americans support an eventual pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers. A CNN/ORC International survey conducted last month found that 84% of the public backs a program that would allow undocumented workers to stay in the U.S. and apply for citizenship if they have been in the country for several years, have a job, and pay back taxes.
The overall high level of support is not new — in a 2007 CNN survey, 80% felt that same way.
But the 84% figure is higher than two other national polls released in recent weeks. Nearly six in 10 Americans in surveys from Quinnipiac University and ABC News/Washington Post said they supported an eventual pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers.
The other recent polls did not describe the circumstances under which immigrants would be allowed to stay — such as having a job and paying back taxes — which would likely dilute support for the proposals that are most likely to come before Congress.
CNN’s Halimah Abdullah contributed to this report
Hart Immigration provides immigration services in Los Angeles, Orange County, and surrounding areas.