THE NEXT AMERICA

The Making of an Immigration Deal?

House ethics Committee Chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 29, 2010, during a hearing investigating Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)  
National Journal
April 24, 2012, 4:43 a.m.

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.

In the House, Rep. Zoe Lof­gren, D-Cal­if., has un­der lock and key the draft of a broad com­prom­ise im­mig­ra­tion bill agreed to in secret by Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic ne­go­ti­at­ors in the last Con­gress. That bill was nev­er in­tro­duced be­cause of the rauc­ous polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment, co­in­cid­ing with the rise of the tea party, that made Re­pub­lic­ans wary of stick­ing their necks out. But the doc­u­ment still ex­ists and could be the basis of fu­ture talks. “It was a con­sensus product that would have worked and still could work,” Lof­gren said in an in­ter­view last month. “It tells me that there is a place you can get to. Was it ex­actly the bill I would have writ­ten? No. But was it fair? And would it have worked? Yeah.”

No one denies that bor­der states such as Ari­zona have dealt with more than their fair share of prob­lems from il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion. When Janet Na­pol­it­ano was gov­ernor of Ari­zona in 2005, she de­clared a state of emer­gency along the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der. As DHS sec­ret­ary, she has presided over ramped-up fed­er­al en­force­ment ef­forts against il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion.

The prob­lem has yet to be solved, and that is why Ari­zona is ar­guing be­fore the Su­preme Court for the right to ad­dress il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion in its own way. Yet, however the justices rule on that ques­tion, it won’t al­ter the course of the con­ver­sa­tions among poli­cy­makers on Cap­it­ol Hill.

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