A bipartisan group of senators has reached a tentative agreement to create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but that path is filled with stuff both parties usually reject as intolerable for American citizens. The senators hope to finish the bill and present it to the Senate Judiciary Committee by early April, the Los Angeles Times' Brian Bennett reports.
Immigration advocates marveled to Bennett that only nine months ago, it would have been "nuts" to imagine a bipartisan deal on immigration. And while it's very nice that we're seeing the first progress on the issue since 2007, it's a little unsettling that the senators are OK with treating immigrants a way they'd never treat their voters. Major elements of the agreement include:
Raise taxes on lower-income people. The deal would require illegal immigrants to pay a fine. This is like a tax on citizenship. Republicans are opposed to any new tax increases. Democrats want to raise taxes and close loopholes only for people making more than a middle-class salary, which congressional Democrats have defined as making more than $500,000 a year. The proposal would also require illegal immigrants to file federal income taxes for their time in the U.S. But many illegal immigrants already pay payroll taxes, and some file federal income tax returns. This resulted in a mini-scandal, because some of those illegal immigrants made so little money they qualified for the child tax credit and got a refund. In February, House Republicans passed a bill that would prevent illegal immigrants from getting the child tax credit. This means they're raising their taxes.
Cut benefits that people have already paid for. The bipartisan Senate deal would prohibit illegal immigrants "from receiving federal public benefits, including food stamps, family cash assistance, Medicaid and unemployment insurance," the Los Angeles Times reports. Democrats oppose most cuts to programs for the poor. Republicans oppose cutting benefits you already paid for, as Paul Ryan explained when he was running for vice-president in 2012. The implication that illegal immigrants are moochers is not supported by facts. Illegal immigrants already pay taxes for entitlements they won't benefit from. They've actually strengthened Social Security and Medicare because many pay payroll taxes for those programs but never use the benefits. The Social Security Administration estimates illegal immigrants pay $15 billion a year to the program but take out only $1 billion. Many pay the IRS $1,400 for a taxpayer I.D. number if they don't have a Social Security number. They pay lots of other taxes, like sales tax. As Adam Davidson explained for The New York Times, illegal immigrants spend almost all of what they earn.
Create a national registry of illegal immigrants. The Senate deal would require illegal immigrants to register with the Department of Homeland Security. Lately we've had a conversation about a national registry of people who haven't committed violent crimes — a national gun registry. One of the sticking points in requiring universal background checks is that will "require universal registration," as Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is one of the immigration reforming senators, told USA Today.
Create 10 years of red tape. As The Atlantic Wire has noted before, bureaucratic "red tape" is something politicians of both parties nearly universally support. Except when it comes to illegal immigrants. Then it's not a bug, it's a feature of any reform. While the senators haven't yet agreed on how long it will take for illegal immigrants to get permanent resident status, aides tol the Los Angeles Times it could be 10 years.