Looks like it’s Let’s Make a Deal time this month, except perhaps for budgets, at least for the moment. At the same time the Senate has cut a deal on gun control by, er, making the status quo slightly more muscular, the Gang of Eight has reached a deal in principle on immigration. It will roll out next week in legislative language, but the negotiations have all but concluded, Politico reports:
The Senate’s immigration Gang of Eight plans to announce a deal within a week but a committee markup is not expected until at least the week of May 6, providing a long period for debate and changes, Senate aides said Tuesday.
Aides said the legislative proposal could be released as soon as Thursday, but is more likely to be ready early next week. The schedule outlined by the aides is meant to satisfy Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has said repeatedly that he wants a full debate and amendment process, to maximize the chances that the final vote is an overwhelming majority.
In what clearly was a concession to Marco Rubio, the agreement includes a public hearing on the bill in committee, with plenty of time for debate and amendments:
A Senate aide told POLITICO: “The senators had a good discussion with [Judiciary Committee] Chairman [Patrick] Leahy this afternoon. We are optimistic that we will be able to introduce legislation soon. Chairman Leahy has agreed to hold a hearing as soon as possible after the legislation is introduced, and has promised to have unlimited debate and amendments during the committee markup.
“Assuming Republican members push for as much time as possible, the committee debate will last through the next recess, giving plenty of time for public debate and review,” the aide added.
The key will be the border-security triggers, which will have to be fairly robust to keep Rubio in the fold. If he abandons the effort, it’s dead in the water. It might still pass the Senate, but without Rubio’s endorsement, the House won’t bother to move on its own version of the comprehensive bill to push it into a conference committee. Everyone knows that Rubio is the key.
So did he get the robust border security triggers he demanded? The Wall Street Journal says yes:
Immigrants in the U.S. illegally would not gain green cards under a bipartisan Senate bill until law-enforcement officials are monitoring the entire southern border and stopping 90% of people crossing illegally in certain areas, according to people familiar with the plan.
The border-security proposal, part of a broader immigration bill being written by eight senators, sets several goals that would have to be met before any of the estimated 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally could apply for permanent legal residency, also known as a green card, according to the people familiar with the Senate talks. Meeting all the goals is expected to take 10 years.
The bill would make the DHS E-Verify system mandatory, a push that border-control advocates have demanded for years. It also makes an overhaul of the notoriously porous visa system a prerequisite for advancing normalization:
In a major change for businesses, all employers would be required after a five-year phase-in period to use the government’s E-Verify system, which screens for illegal workers. E-Verify now is largely voluntary, though some states require it. Some 409,000 employers had enrolled in the program as of last year, the federal government says, a tiny fraction of the estimated six million private U.S. employers, many of which have only a handful of employees.
Along the U.S.-Mexican border, 100% of the border would have to be under surveillance, and law enforcement would have to catch 90% of those who cross the border illegally at “high risk” sections—a term that people following the Senate talks did not define. In 2010, the Department of Homeland Security reported that only 44% of the border was under operational control, meaning officials had the ability to detect and block illegal activity there.
In addition, the government would have to create an electronic system to monitor everyone who exits from the U.S. through airports or seaports, in an attempt to identify people overstaying their visas. People who overstay visas account for a large share of illegal immigrants, as much as 40% by some estimates.
That appears to be a fairly robust trigger for moving ahead with normalization. If implemented as shown — a mighty big if — the US will finally have solved its border security issues and replaced a visa system that may have been an even greater security risk than the border. Without trading for normalization, these initiatives have been left twisting in the wind ever since the 9/11 Commission demanded action on both in 2005.
Again, assuming that these triggers actually are implemented, this is a pretty good trade for all sides.