On Thursday, House Republicans released their long-awaited "principles" for an immigration reform bill.
The six-part blueprint argues for "a zero tolerance policy for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas in the future," legal residence or citizenship for certain immigrants "who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own," reform that "ensures that a president cannot unilaterally stop immigration enforcement," and effective employment eligibility verification and entry-exit tracking systems.
The last part is the one that most people are interested in, however:
There will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation's immigration laws.... Rather, these persons could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits). Criminal aliens, gang members, and sex offenders and those who do not meet the above requirements will not be eligible for this program. Finally, none of this can happen before specific enforcement triggers have been implemented to fulfill our promise to the American people that from here on, our immigration laws will indeed be enforced. [via The New York Times]
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the Senate Democrats' leaders on immigration reform, gave nodding approval to the list — even though the principles specifically ruled out the bill the Senate passed last year. Immigration advocates were cautiously optimistic, reserving final judgment until the House GOP produces actual legislation. President Obama sounded upbeat that the GOP principals could open the door to mutually acceptable legislation.
Republicans split sharply over the proposals. Generally speaking, Republicans who favor immigration reform out of conviction, political calculation, or business interest (farmers, for example) applauded the principles. Those opposed to any law that smacks of "amnesty" were less enthusiastic.
"Anyone pushing an amnesty bill right now should go ahead and put a 'Harry Reid for Majority Leader' bumper sticker on their car, " said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), "because that will be the likely effect if Republicans refuse to listen to the American people and foolishly change the subject from ObamaCare to amnesty." The editors of National Review made a similar tactical argument. Ann Coulter was a little more straightforward in her appeal to keep immigrants out.
Other opponents of the House GOP blueprint, noting that Republican leaders have hinted they won't hold a vote on any bill until the summer — that is, after the GOP primaries — are accusing the GOP of "planning to pull a fast one on immigration," as The Washington Examiner's Byron York puts it. Mickey Kaus at The Daily Caller wonders if this attempt by House GOP leaders to "trick anti-amnesty conservatives into voting for what in essence is an amnesty" is "the best scam they can come up with."
Bill Kristol at The Weekly Standard worries that this ploy will convince anti-immigration activists to ensure "an anti-amnesty independent candidate on the general election ballot" in case House leaders push through "this unique combination of cynicism and recklessness." If they do, he says, it "could well mean ... Speaker Pelosi. The solution? No immigration votes in 2014. Kill the bills."
If conservatives think the vague principles go too far, plenty of liberal advocates for immigration reform think they fall way too short. AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka condemned the GOP's "half-measures that would create a permanent class of noncitizens without access to green cards." As long as there's no "functioning immigration system with a pathway to citizenship," he added, "ruthless employers will continue to exploit low wage workers, pulling down wages for all."
Trumka makes the principled argument against the GOP's blueprint, says Brian Beutler at Salon. "But in human terms, would actual immigrants (and their citizen children) prefer no bill at all to a bill that at least lets them work and live freely in the U.S. in perpetuity?" That's the real trap Republicans are setting for Democrats, he adds. If Republicans take a path to citizenship off the table, "I'm not sure Democrats and advocates have adequately grappled with the bind that would place them in."
To recap, lots of Republicans are opposed to the GOP's immigration principles because they don't preclude citizenship for undocumented immigrants, open the door to DREAMers and "anchor babies," and appear to let those undocumented immigrants work in the country legally while the border-enforcement part is being shored up. Some number of Democrats oppose the same blueprint because it doesn't include a path to citizenship, creates a second class of guest workers who can be deported on a whim, and because the whole list is premised on vague "specific enforcement triggers."
So, which side dislikes it more? The Right. Cynical political calculations aside, most Democrats want some form of immigration reform to pass, and this set of proposals makes that more likely to happen. Many Republicans and other conservatives at this point think the broken status quo is better than anything that could pass through the Democrat-controlled Senate. The default on the Left is "act." The default on the Right is "wait."
There is plenty of common ground that a bipartisan, mutually acceptable deal in Congress could be built upon. If Republicans are serious.