Immigration Reform Plan: The Devil Is In The Details


Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

A bipartisan group of senators has agreed on a set of principles for a sweeping overhaul of the immigration system, including a pathway to American citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants that would hinge on progress in securing the borders and ensuring that foreigners leave the country when their visas expire. They will announce their blueprint on Monday, a day before President Obama announces his plan in a speech to be delivered in Las Vegas, Nevada on Tuesday. Senators Agree on Blueprint for Immigration –

According to a five-page draft of the plan obtained by The New York Times Document: Bipartisan Framework for Immigration Reform, the eight senators — including Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, Republicans of Arizona; Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York; and Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina — have agreed to address the failings of the immigration system in one comprehensive measure, rather than in smaller pieces, and to offer a “tough, fair and practical road map” that would eventually lead to a chance at citizenship for nearly all of the immigrants here illegally.

Under the senators’ plan, most illegal immigrants would be able to apply to become permanent residents — a crucial first step toward citizenship — but only after certain border enforcement measures had been accomplished.

Among the plan’s new proposals is the creation of a commission of governors, law enforcement officials and community leaders from border states that would assess when border security measures had been completed. A proposal would also require that an exit system be in place for tracking departures of foreigners who entered the country through airports or seaports, before any illegal immigrants could start on a path to citizenship.

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In a parallel effort, a separate group of four senators will introduce a bill this week dealing with another thorny issue that is likely to be addressed in a comprehensive measure: visas for legal immigrants with advanced skills in technology and science. The bill, written primarily by Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, a Republican, and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a Democrat, would nearly double the number of temporary visas, known as an H-1B, available each year to highly skilled immigrants. It would also free up more permanent resident visas, known as green cards, so those immigrants could eventually settle in the United States and go on to become citizens.

* * *

Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a Democrat who was one of those negotiating the comprehensive principles, said the senators finally agreed that any legislation should include a pathway to citizenship.

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Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican, also joined the group of eight senators in recent weeks and endorsed its principles.

Mr. Rubio, a Cuban-American who is a fast-rising figure in his party, had insisted on including the exit tracking system as one of the triggers for opening the path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Mr. Rubio cited estimates that as many as 40 percent of immigrants in the country illegally had overstayed their visas.

Mr. Rubio also insisted that any immigrants who gained legal status under the legislation would “be required to go to the back of the line” behind other immigrants who applied to come through legal channels.

Under the senators’ proposal, border security would be immediately strengthened with new technology, including aerial drones, for border patrol agents, while the Department of Homeland Security would work to expand the exit control system. The United States currently has some exit controls to track departures of foreigners at most airports and seaports, but it does not track exits by land.

At the same time, immigrants here illegally would “simultaneously” be required “to register with the government.” After passing background checks and paying back taxes and fines, those immigrants would receive a “probationary legal status” that would allow them to live and work legally in the United States. Immigrants with that status would not be eligible for most federal public benefits.

The senators also called for a mandatory nationwide program to verify the legal status of new hires, although the details of whether that would include some form of identity card remained vague.

The senators would require that “our proposed enforcement measures be complete before any immigrant on probationary status can earn a green card,” according to the draft principles. The group also includes Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, both Democrats, and another Republican, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona.

The proposals would offer major exemptions from the requirements for citizenship to young immigrants here illegally who came to United States as children [i.e., the DREAM Act], giving them a faster path to become Americans.

Immigrant farmworkers would also be given a separate and faster path to citizenship, according to the principles.

Still ahead are difficult negotiations over how long immigrants who gain provisional status would have to wait before they could become citizens. Mr. Rubio’s ideas are for a far longer and less direct pathway than Democrats would like.

Yeah, about that "commission of governors, law enforcement officials and community leaders from border states" that would determine whether enforcement measures are complete before any immigrant on probationary status can apply for permanent resdient status. This is an opportunity for political grandstanding by ideologues (you know who) that could render any immigration reform plan illusory if this commission possesses any genuine oversight authority.

As Greg Sargent explains in The Morning Plum, the devil is in the details:

It’s a cliche to say at such moments that the “Devil is in the details,” but in this case, boy is the Devil ever in the details.

The rub is that the process for putting undocumented immigrants — who will be granted probationary legal status — on a path to citizenship is contingent on a commission deciding that the border is secure. The framework describes that commission this way:

 We recognize that Americans living along the Southwest border are key to recognizing and understanding when the border is truly secure. Our legislation will create a commission of governors, attorneys general and community leaders living along the southwest border to monitor the progress of securing our border and to make a recommendation regarding when the bill’s security measures outlined in the legislation are completed.

The fate of immigration reform, then, largely rests on what this commission looks like, who is on it, and what metric it uses to decide when the border is secure. At first glance, doesn’t this basically constitute giving people like Arizona Governor Jan Brewer veto power over when the citizenship process begins? Many immigration advocates argue the border is already secure [as it’s going to get], but Republicans continue to insist it isn’t, raising the question of whether this commission will ever acknowledge that border security has been achieved. And if this “commission” doesn’t ever decide the border is secure, couldn’t that result in 11 million people being stranded in second-class legal limbo?

That’s a legitimate worry, according to Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, a group advocating for immigration reform. But he tells me that on a conference call yesterday, Democratic Senators reassured immigration advocates that this commission won’t be constructed in a way that will hold up the process for too long.

As Sharry put it, Democrats realize that they can’t “allow the commission to have a real veto” over setting in motion the path to citizenship. He noted that Dems see the commission as “something that gives the Republicans a talking point” to claim they are prioritizing tough enforcement, giving themselves cover to back a process that “won’t stop people from getting citizenship.” However, Sharry added: “The details of this are going to matter hugely, and we’ll have to fight like hell on the individual provisions.”

Sargent follows up this post in What did Republicans win in the immigration deal?

It’s has been widely assumed this morning by some immigration advocates (and by yours truly, too) that the new immigration reform plan’s process of citizenship for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants is contingent on a commission of Southwestern officials declaring the border secure.

Not true. I’ve now got clarification from Senate staff working on the bill, and it turns out that the enforcement commission’s judgments will only be advisory, and are entirely nonbinding. Congress’ actions will not be dictated by what this commission concludes; neither will actions taken by the Department of Homeland Security. The citizenship process will be triggered  by other means (more on this soon).

This is central to the debate. If this commission had the power to dictate when the citizenship process begins, it could endanger the entire enterprise by giving people like Jan Brewer veto power. Second, this enforcement commission is being seen as a major concession Republicans won in exchange for agreeing to grant citizenship to the 11 million.

But the commission isn’t, for all practical purposes, really a major concession at all.

Ahhh, too bad Jan. You are going to have to holster your boney finger.

Here is how it’s supposed to work, according to staffers for one of the Dem Senators working on the legislation. The framework calls for an increase in the number of unmanned aerial vehicles, surveillance equipment, agents, and other measures designed to increase border security. The legislation will lay out specific targets as to how much border security needs to be increased by DHS; when those targets are met, the citizenship process goes forward, with the granting of probationary legal status to the undocumented.

Dem staffers say the four key Senate Republicans agreed to this approach, and this afternoon, when the bipartisan group of Senators holds their presser announcing the plan, this should become clearer.

The concessions Republicans got in this deal — in exchange for agreeing to citizenship for 11 million — include beefed up border security, a new program designed to help employers verify their employees’ status, tougher checks on immigrants overstaying visas, and the need for undocumented immigrants to go to the end of the immigration line. But the enforcement commission doesn’t appear to represent a real concession to Republicans, as it doesn’t seem to have any real influence over the process.

The way I read this plan is that the Republicans will agree to an immigration reform plan with a path to citizenship (cue the nativist and racist haters screaming "amnesty!") in exchange for militarizing the U.S-Mexico border with UAV drones and other high-tech surveillance. Will this become the new mission for Fort Huachuca and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base? And do we really want to have a hostile "militarized" border with one of our largest trading partners and neighbors, many of whom live in communities directly on the border?

This obsession with Latino immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border ignores the reality that there is substantial illegal immigration from countries in Europe and Asia, much of which is through ports of entry other than the U.S.-Mexico border. As a former resident of Minnesota I can tell you that those Canadians are sneaky bastards, they look and sound just like us! (Sarcasm for the humor impaired).

UPDATE: Ezra Klein also points out that the key word in the framework is "contingent." Everything is contingent upon the securing of our borders. But how will we known when our borders are secure? The 5 most important sentences in the Senate’s immigration plan. The devil is in the details.

UPDATE: Greg Sargent on Tuesday says there is confusion about this border commission. The Morning Plum: Confusion envelops Senate immigration plan:

On CBS this morning, John McCain said the “final decision” about whether the border is secure will be made
by the Department of Homeland Security, which suggests a diminished
role for this commission, while remaining inconclusive on precisely how
this process will work. But in an interview with Ed Morrissey late yesterday,
Marco Rubio suggested he won’t support a path to citizenship unless the
commission does sign off on border security, a position he reiterated in another interview. There’s no clear agreement even among Republicans about the role of this commission.

Meanwhile, Dem Senate aides tell me
that the commission’s role is designed to be purely advisory and
nonbinding. At the same time, Chuck Schumer’s office declined to respond
to my request for clarification on this point.

Can we get a straight answer on this, please? This question is viewed
as critical by people on both sides of the debate. Yet Senators appear
to want to keep the answer to this question vague.

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AZ BlueMeanie
The Blue Meanie is an Arizona citizen who wishes, for professional reasons, to remain anonymous when blogging about politics. Armed with a deep knowledge of the law, politics and public policy, as well as pen filled with all the colors stolen from Pepperland, the Blue Meanie’s mission is to pursue and prosecute the hypocrites, liars, and fools of politics and the media – which, in practical terms, is nearly all of them. Don’t even try to unmask him or he’ll seal you in a music-proof bubble and rendition you to Pepperland for a good face-stomping. Read blog posts by the infamous and prolific AZ Blue Meanie here.


  1. The border will only be secure when the GOP candidates have milked the issue for its final maximum political gain. (read Brewer and Flake) It has nothing to do with actual security. Has any of these knuckleheads ever walked the border from Douglas to Nogales or in Yuma county, along the bombing range to San Luis? It is long, long, long, and very rugged. And unless you want the Berlin Wall with moats, multiple barb wire fences, manned watch towers every 1000 feet and tank berms, (with each tea party member’s share of taxes paying for all of it clearly shown) it will always have some open places.