The conventional wisdom on immigration and Congress is that nothing is happening and nothing is going to happen for the foreseeable future. It’s wrong. It is true that a comprehensive immigration bill the likes of which President Bush endorsed in 2007 won’t pass this year, but it is not true that nothing is going on.
The makings of an immigration grand bargain are all over the Capitol.
Arizona will make its case before the Supreme Court on Wednesday that the state was justified in passing a law requiring police officers to check the immigration status of the people they stop. A federal ruling would give the state the ability to make warrantless arrests of suspects whom officials reasonably suspect are deportable. The legal arguments are about federal preemption of state law, but the state’s political arguments lay the blame squarely on Congress and the administration. Arizona’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer, complains that her state has suffered disproportionately from the national problem of illegal immigration because Washington has failed to address it.
“Fail” may be too strong a word. Passing legislation is difficult under any circumstances, but the political volatility of immigration makes any congressional action much harder. Still, elected officials are trying, and thus laying the groundwork for future deals.
Democrats have made several attempts to pass legislation to legalize undocumented college-bound students. Now Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is floating among his GOP colleagues a new Dream Act that would give those students legal status but not citizenship. That conversation eventually could produce compromise legislation that would offer a contorted path to citizenship for some undocumented kids. It also accomplishes Rubio’s goal of toning down the rhetoric on illegal immigration, which has alienated many Hispanics from the Republican Party.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is proposing a high-tech immigration bill that would tighten up the H-1B temporary visa program and change the per-country allocations of employment-based green cards. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is hoping to add visa provisions for Irish nationals and is working with Grassley on the H-1B changes. That conversation could produce compromise legislation to ease some of the concerns about high-tech foreign workers.