Draft Principles Show GOP Is Evolving on Immigration

Read the full draft document here.

A boys shows a US flag as President Barack Obama speaks on immigration at the Chamizal National Memorial on May 10, 2011 in El Paso, Texas.
National Journal
Fawn Johnson
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Fawn Johnson
Jan. 30, 2014, 11:23 a.m.

The one-page set of im­mig­ra­tion prin­ciples cir­cu­lated by the House Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers at their an­nu­al re­treat in Cam­bridge, Md., on Thursday shows that the GOP is tak­ing a more ex­pans­ive pub­lic view of im­mig­ra­tion than their past state­ments would in­dic­ate.

“Pub­lic” is the key word there. The opin­ions of Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers of Con­gress on im­mig­ra­tion have var­ied widely for years, but the fear of polit­ic­al re­tri­bu­tion for any­thing oth­er than bor­der se­cur­ity state­ments has muted those di­verse opin­ions. Now, in the­ory, those opin­ions can come out.

The prin­ciples are in draft form, and they are meant to so­li­cit in­di­vidu­al mem­bers’ thoughts on how the un­wieldy im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem should change.

The next few weeks will be crit­ic­al for im­mig­ra­tion as law­makers and lob­by­ists parse in­di­vidu­al House mem­bers’ re­ac­tions to the policy re­com­mend­a­tions and con­stitu­ents. Think of this com­plex in­form­a­tion-gath­er­ing sys­tem as the soft­est “whip count” of Re­pub­lic­an sup­port in the his­tory of Con­gress. The more mem­bers who say, “No way, no how!” the less likely the prin­ciples are to morph in­to le­gis­la­tion. The more mem­bers who say, “Sure, let’s look at it,” the more likely we are to see ac­tu­al con­crete pro­pos­als.

The is­sue of most im­port­ance to im­mig­rant ad­voc­ates — many of whom are not Re­pub­lic­ans — is the po­ten­tial leg­al­iz­a­tion of the un­doc­u­mented pop­u­la­tion. To be more pre­cise, im­mig­rants are most con­cerned with re­mov­ing the fear of de­port­a­tion for people who are here without pa­pers.

House GOP lead­er­ship ap­pear will­ing to do that. The draft of the im­mig­ra­tion prin­ciples states that im­mig­rants in the U.S. il­leg­ally should be able to “live leg­ally and without fear” in the coun­try, but only if they are will­ing to ad­mit “culp­ab­il­ity” and all the pun­ish­ments that come with that, can prove they aren’t crim­in­als, and can sup­port them­selves.

But the doc­u­ment out­right states that “there will be no spe­cial path­way cit­izen­ship for in­di­vidu­als who broke our na­tion’s im­mig­ra­tion laws.”

That doesn’t mean they can’t be­come cit­izens. The prin­ciples do not fore­close the op­por­tun­ity for un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants to ob­tain green cards, and even­tu­ally cit­izen­ship, through the cur­rent meth­ods. People who have been in the coun­try long enough to have young adult chil­dren who are U.S. cit­izens could be­come cit­izens in their own right with­in five years un­der this concept. People who marry U.S. cit­izens could also get their green cards re­l­at­ively quickly. People whose em­ploy­ers want to spon­sor them for green cards could also get in line for green cards and have them with­in a few years.

The prob­lem for ad­voc­ates and Demo­crats, of course, is that not every­one in the un­doc­u­mented pop­u­la­tion would be able to get cit­izen­ship un­der these cri­ter­ia. The Na­tion­al Found­a­tion for Amer­ic­an Policy, an im­mig­ra­tion-re­lated re­search group, es­tim­ates that some­where between 4.5 mil­lion and 6.5 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants could even­tu­ally be­come cit­izens un­der the broad con­structs that have been out­lined by Re­pub­lic­ans. At best, that’s only about half of the es­tim­ated 11 to 12 mil­lion un­au­thor­ized im­mig­rants

As more con­crete pro­pos­als in the House emerge, the ques­tion for Demo­crats, the Sen­ate, and the White House will be wheth­er those pro­posed changes would ac­com­mod­ate enough people to make it worth their while to bar­gain with Re­pub­lic­ans. Demo­crats’ de­cisions on that front will be as im­port­ant as wheth­er Re­pub­lic­ans can even­tu­ally swal­low some form of leg­al­iz­a­tion.

A good ex­ample of the mixed re­ac­tions from ad­voc­ates who trend lib­er­al came from Laura Murphy, dir­ect­or of the ACLU’s Wash­ing­ton le­gis­lat­ive of­fice. “The good news is that the House Re­pub­lic­ans are mov­ing for­ward on much needed im­mig­ra­tion re­form, but some of their stand­ards are highly prob­lem­at­ic.” She went on to out­line ques­tions about cit­izen­ship and de­ten­tion fa­cil­it­ies.

Mixed re­ac­tions aside, the prin­ciples should al­low Re­pub­lic­ans some lee­way to dis­cuss how they feel about one of the most dif­fi­cult policy areas in the coun­try. Sen. Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla., took a beat­ing among tea party con­ser­vat­ives for voicing the opin­ion last year that un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants should be able to stay in the coun­try and earn cit­izen­ship. He backed off of im­mig­ra­tion in a hurry and star­ted talk­ing about poverty.

Earli­er this week, Ru­bio was happy to dis­cuss im­mig­ra­tion again, and happy that House Re­pub­lic­ans are think­ing about it ser­i­ously. He said that his party be­lieves many un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants should be able to stay here, but it does not agree on what to do with those people af­ter­wards.

“I think the con­sensus is that the best way to deal with them be­gins with en­sur­ing that we nev­er have this prob­lem again and then con­tin­ue to make con­sequences for hav­ing vi­ol­ated the law — pen­al­ties and wait times — and then a pro­cess by which they can be able to work and pay taxes in this coun­try,” Ru­bio said. “What hap­pens after that on cit­izen­ship and so forth, I don’t think there’s a con­sensus.”

Even Sen. Jeff Ses­sions, R-Ala., a staunch op­pon­ent of any­thing touch­ing leg­al­iz­a­tion, said earli­er this week that House Re­pub­lic­ans may be on the right track in dis­cuss­ing im­mig­ra­tion, even if he doesn’t think the ef­forts will come to any­thing. “I think they’ve been way too de­fens­ive. They need to as­sert boldly the prin­ciples that their con­stitu­ents be­lieve in,” he said. Then he ad­ded more dis­missively, “Every­one can agree on talk­ing points.”

House Re­pub­lic­ans make one thing clear: they are not ac­cept­ing the Sen­ate’s im­mig­ra­tion bill that cre­ates a 13-year path to cit­izen­ship for people without pa­pers. But the House GOP doc­u­ment does back cit­izen­ship for DREAM­ers, chil­dren who were brought to the U.S. il­leg­ally by their par­ents.

Let’s not for­get en­force­ment, which is a crit­ic­al part of im­mig­ra­tion over­haul from a GOP per­spect­ive. House Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an said this in an in­ter­view with CNN’s Jake Tap­per im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the re­lease of the prin­ciples: “The ap­proach that that we want to take is not ‘trust but veri­fy’ but ‘veri­fy and trust,’” he said. That’s a not-so-veiled knock on Pres­id­ent Obama for flout­ing the GOP’s wishes in any num­ber of areas, in­clud­ing im­mig­ra­tion, by act­ing uni­lat­er­ally without con­gres­sion­al sign-off.

The GOP im­mig­ra­tion prin­ciples say the law should en­sure that pres­id­ents can’t “uni­lat­er­ally stop im­mig­ra­tion,” al­lud­ing to Obama’s halt­ing of some de­port­a­tions un­der De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals, or DACA, pro­gram.

The prin­ciples call for a “zero tol­er­ance” policy for people who cross the bor­der il­leg­ally or stay in the coun­try past the time peri­od al­lot­ted un­der a visa. They say a pro­posed visa entry/exit sys­tem that has been in the works since 2001 should fi­nally be com­pleted. They say the coun­try should “fully im­ple­ment” an elec­tron­ic work-au­thor­iz­a­tion veri­fic­a­tion sys­tem for em­ploy­ers when they hire new work­ers.

With­in minutes of the draft leak­ing, its con­tent re­ceived both push-back and sup­port. Busi­ness Roundtable called it “a pos­it­ive step for­ward on the path to fix­ing Amer­ica’s broken im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem.” The AFL-CIO shot it down be­cause it lacks a path­way to cit­izen­ship, with Pres­id­ent Richard Trumka call­ing it “a flimsy doc­u­ment that only serves to un­der­score the cal­lous at­ti­tude Re­pub­lic­ans have to­ward our na­tion’s im­mig­rants.” Her­it­age Ac­tion spokes­man Dan Holler called the prin­ciples “a full em­brace of am­nesty.”

Demo­crat­ic Rep. Lu­is Gu­ti­er­rez, a long­time im­mig­ra­tion re­form ad­voc­ate who con­tin­ues hav­ing private con­ver­sa­tions with House Re­pub­lic­ans, soun­ded cau­tiously op­tim­ist­ic. “The de­tails really mat­ter and I have not seen any­thing con­crete from the Re­pub­lic­ans so I am not in a po­s­i­tion to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to any­thing,” he said in a state­ment. “There is a long way to go and we all need to care­fully eval­u­ate ac­tu­al le­gis­la­tion, but the prin­ciples are a first step.”

See the text of the draft doc­u­ment be­low:

PRE­AMBLE

Our na­tion’s im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem is broken and our laws are not be­ing en­forced. Wash­ing­ton’s fail­ure to fix them is hurt­ing our eco­nomy and jeop­ard­iz­ing our na­tion­al se­cur­ity. The over­rid­ing pur­pose of our im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem is to pro­mote and fur­ther Amer­ica’s na­tion­al in­terests and that is not the case today. The ser­i­ous prob­lems in our im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem must be solved, and we are com­mit­ted to work­ing in a bi­par­tis­an man­ner to solve them. But they can­not be solved with a single, massive piece of le­gis­la­tion that few have read and even few­er un­der­stand, and there­fore, we will not go to a con­fer­ence with the Sen­ate’s im­mig­ra­tion bill. The prob­lems in our im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem must be solved through a step-by-step, com­mon-sense ap­proach that starts with se­cur­ing our coun­try’s bor­ders, en­for­cing our laws, and im­ple­ment­ing ro­bust en­force­ment meas­ures. These are the prin­cipals guid­ing us in that ef­fort.

Bor­der Se­cur­ity and In­teri­or En­force­ment Must Come First

It is the fun­da­ment­al duty of any gov­ern­ment to se­cure its bor­ders, and the United States is fail­ing in this mis­sion. We must se­cure our bor­ders now and veri­fy that they are se­cure. In ad­di­tion, we must en­sure now that when im­mig­ra­tion re­form is en­acted, there will be a zero tol­er­ance policy for those who cross the bor­der il­leg­ally or over­stay their visas in the fu­ture. Faced with a con­sist­ent pat­tern of ad­min­is­tra­tions of both parties only se­lect­ively en­for­cing our na­tion’s im­mig­ra­tion laws, we must en­act re­form that en­sures that a Pres­id­ent can­not uni­lat­er­ally stop im­mig­ra­tion en­force­ment.

Im­ple­ment Entry-Exit Visa Track­ing Sys­tem

A fully func­tion­ing Entry-Exit sys­tem has been man­dated by eight sep­ar­ate stat­utes over the last 17 years. At least three of these laws call for this sys­tem to be bio­met­ric, us­ing tech­no­logy to veri­fy iden­tity and pre­vent fraud. We must im­ple­ment this sys­tem so we can identi­fy and track down vis­it­ors who ab­use our laws.

Em­ploy­ment Veri­fic­a­tion and Work­place En­force­ment

In the 21st cen­tury it is un­ac­cept­able that the ma­jor­ity of em­ploy­ees have their work eli­gib­il­ity veri­fied through a pa­per based sys­tem wrought with fraud. It is past time for this coun­try to fully im­ple­ment a work­able elec­tron­ic em­ploy­ment veri­fic­a­tion sys­tem.

Re­forms to the Leg­al Im­mig­ra­tion Sys­tem

For far too long, the United States has em­phas­ized ex­ten­ded fam­ily mem­bers and pure luck over em­ploy­ment-based im­mig­ra­tion. This is in­con­sist­ent with nearly every oth­er de­veloped coun­try. Every year thou­sands of for­eign na­tion­als pur­sue de­grees at Amer­ica’s col­leges and uni­versit­ies, par­tic­u­larly in high skilled fields. Many of them want to use their ex­pert­ise in U.S. in­dus­tries that will spur eco­nom­ic growth and cre­ate jobs for Amer­ic­ans. When visas aren’t avail­able, we end up ex­port­ing this labor and in­genu­ity to oth­er coun­tries. Visa and green card al­loc­a­tions need to re­flect the needs of em­ploy­ers and the de­sire for these ex­cep­tion­al in­di­vidu­als to help grow our eco­nomy.

The goal of any tem­por­ary work­er pro­gram should be to ad­dress the eco­nom­ic needs of the coun­try and to strengthen our na­tion­al se­cur­ity by al­low­ing for real­ist­ic, en­force­able, us­able, leg­al paths for entry in­to the United States. Of par­tic­u­lar con­cern are the needs of the ag­ri­cul­tur­al in­dustry, among oth­ers. It is im­per­at­ive that these tem­por­ary work­ers are able to meet the eco­nom­ic needs of the coun­try and do not dis­place or dis­ad­vant­age Amer­ic­an work­ers.

Youth

One of the great found­ing prin­ciples of our coun­try was that chil­dren would not be pun­ished for the mis­takes of their par­ents. It is time to provide an op­por­tun­ity for leg­al res­id­ence and cit­izen­ship for those who were brought to this coun­try as chil­dren through no fault of their own, those who know no oth­er place as home. For those who meet cer­tain eli­gib­il­ity stand­ards, and serve hon­or­ably in our mil­it­ary or at­tain a col­lege de­gree, we will do just that.

In­di­vidu­als Liv­ing Out­side the Rule of Law

Our na­tion­al and eco­nom­ic se­cur­ity de­pend on re­quir­ing people who are liv­ing and work­ing here il­leg­ally to come for­ward and get right with the law. There will be no spe­cial path to cit­izen­ship for in­di­vidu­als who broke our na­tion’s im­mig­ra­tion laws ““ that would be un­fair to those im­mig­rants who have played by the rules and harm­ful to pro­mot­ing the rule of law. 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.

Elahe Izad contributed to this article.
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