The package of immigration reforms unveiled today by four GOP senators and four Democratic ones has been pitched as “comprehensive.” And it certainly is comprehensive — so all-encompassing, in fact, it seems to include everything both side wants, even the things that would seem to be mutually exclusive.
For example, the package’s first “pillar” stipulates that a revised “path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants already here” is “contingent upon securing the border and combating visa overstays.” For the left, the the key bit is the “path to citizenship.” For the right, it’s “securing the border.” (I’m speaking in broad terms for both groups, obviously.) Those two goals aren’t necessarily in conflict; it depends on how you try to accomplish them.
That’s where the contradictory details come into play. The Republican senators point to the package’s “commission comprised of governors, attorneys general and community leaders living along the Southwest border” and suggest this group will not only “monitor the progress of securing our border” but decide when that progress is sufficient. The Democratic senators, meanwhile, emphasize this commission will merely “make a recommendation” to that end.
Whatever one thinks of the state of border security and its relation to acting on current illegal immigrants’ status in this country, this commission cannot at once be the “deciders” and only the advisers. They either decide or they don’t; if they don’t, someone else –so far unidentified — do the deciding. The GOP characterization and the Democratic one on this particular point cannot both be true. It matters which one is correct.
Because the right has tended to focus on a security-first approach, this point is of a crucial nature. Many conservatives worry the “border security” element will turn out to be a hollow, ineffective one. So it is of great interest to them when those who advocate looser immigration standards suggest this commission will not be all the Republican senators are making it out to be. Suggestions such as this one in a blog post by liberal blogger Greg Sargent at the Washington Post:
Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, a group advocating for immigration reform … 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.”
That said, Sharry concluded: “This is a left of center framework.”
I appreciate Sharry’s (and Sargent’s) frankness about exactly how much of a fig leaf for amnesty they believe this commission to be, but they’re certainly doing no favors to the prospects this reform framework will be accepted on both sides. If they’re right that it’s just “a talking point” to give one side cover for yielding to the other, it shouldn’t be accepted.
There are some points that ought to be applauded by everyone regardless of political ideology — the automatic green card for immigrants who “received a Ph.D. or master’s degree in science, technology, engineering or math from an American university” is one. But there is enough vagueness, and enough uncertainty with President Obama’s and the House Republicans’ respective immigration proposals still to come, that the Senate package cannot be fully judged yet.
– By Kyle Wingfield