The Great Compromise
As we reported last night, a bipartisan group of Senators gathered this morning to make the announcement that a compromise had in been reached in the debate over immigration reform. In the most sweeping restructuring of the nation's immigration laws in twenty years, the accord would offer most of the nation's 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants the right to work legally in the US and eventually become citizens.
The breakthrough, supported by two-thirds of the Senators including Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) , came after two weeks of intense negotiations and clears the way for a final vote before the spring recess stops business for two weeks.
Over the past week Frist has been negotiating feverishly to persuade Republicans who had supported the more lenient measure that emerged from the Senate Judiciary Committee last week to shift their backing to his bill that had more general support from Republicans.
(more below the fold)
tags: immigration, Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, Frist bill, Securing America's Borders Act, S. 2454
The deal began to come together during marathon meetings last weekend, but Kennedy and other Democrats balked at joining, insisting that they had enough votes to pass the Judiciary Committee version.
On Wednesday, Frist turned the tide against the Democrats. That was when two of the Judiciary Committee bill's primary sponsors, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), informed Kennedy that they were no longer with him and, instead, would back the Martinez-Hagel compromise. Hours later, McCain announced that he was abandoning his own bill and supporting the compromise plan.
At a meeting early yesterday morning, Kennedy secured a few changes that Republicans considered minor, reducing the number of foreign guest-worker visas available each year from 400,000 to 325,000; increasing the number of employment-based green cards from 290,000 to 450,000 a year to accommodate the illegal immigrants who would be required to report to the border to apply for a green card; and strengthening labor protections for guest workers. Then Kennedy went to the Senate floor to urge Democrats to sign on.
In essence the compromise revolves around the inclusion of the a proposal put forward by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) to divide undocumented immigrants into three groups according to how long they had been in the country.
Under the accord, as many as 8 million undocumented workers who can prove that they have been in the country for five years or more before the legislation is enacted would be granted a renewable work visa, after they pay a $2,000 penalty and any back taxes, and undergo a criminal background check. After five years, they could apply for citizenship, provided they remain employed, learn English and do not commit crimes.
About 2.8 million illegal immigrants who have been in the country for more than two years but less than five would have three years to return to a port of entry along the border, such as El Paso, cross the border and apply for one of 450,000 green cards that will be available each year. Kennedy said the whole process could take less than a day, and the immigrants could then return to their U.S. homes. However, Republican aides warned that there would be no guarantees, and that some of those immigrants could get stuck across the border.
Those who have been in the country less than two years would be required to leave the country and join any other foreign residents seeking legal entry.
Additional provisions of the compromise include the increasing of number of green cards for unskilled workers to be as many as 300,000 of the total 450,000 issued, and that the legal status afforded heads of households would apply to family members. The agreement contains many of the security measures that have marked most of the previous bills including the hiring of 12,000 new border patrol agents and the deployment of new technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles. It also calls for tamper-proof identification cards that would replace easily forged Social Security cards used now to obtain work and increased penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants.
The Devil Will Be In The Details
This is not the Kennedy-McCain bill - or even it's watered down version that came out of the Judiciary Committee last week – It's the Frist bill (S.2454) with modifications – and that is something that must always be kept in mind.
Frist's original bill contains almost all of the most harsh language of the bill passed by the House (HR4437) back in December. It started it's life as an enforcement only measure and will need to be substantially amended to be anything close to either of the other proposals that were debated in the Senate. At the present time only three amendments have been passed to the bill with 64 more to go. Amongst those amendments are some much needed revisions, but also some very dubious ones as well. Until the final version is completed, the impulse to claim a victory for immigrant justice must be tempered with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Once the bill is completed and passed through the Senate it still must go back to the House for further revision and compromise before it can be sent to the White House for Presidential approval. As The American Immigration Lawyers Assoc. says in it's preliminary statement on the compromise:
Although we believe this compromise has the potential to bridge the divide in how to deal with the current undocumented population, we believe that no deal can be finalized unless and until there is agreement that the compromise will be protected from damaging amendments on the Senate Floor. There must also be agreement that the compromise will be protected through any House/Senate conference committee. We believe the best way to ensure that is for the Senate Leadership to agree that the entire Senate Judiciary Committee will compose the Senate side of any conference committee.
Notwithstanding our strong support for this compromise, we note that other provisions in the legislation directed at the rights and liberties of both documented and undocumented immigrants remain of significant concern. We will continue to work with Members in both chambers to remove or ameliorate those harmful measures as the process continues to advance.
Thursday, April 6, 2006
The Great Compromise