Dem senators: Legalized illegal immigrants will have to wait around 10 years to apply for a green card

Worth noting now since it’s potentially another sticking point between Rubio and the rest of the Gang of Eight who desperately need him to sell immigration reform to the right. By now, everyone knows the main bone of contention between him and Schumer et al. Rubio wants the path to citizenship implemented only after border enforcement increases; Democrats want it implemented concurrently with — and independent of — the new security measures. (Both sides agree that probationary legal status will be granted immediately, though. Ahem.) Read the fine print on their proposals, though, and you’ll find another disagreement. Namely, once the path to citizenship is in effect, how long will it/should it take for a newly legalized illegal to become eligible for permanent resident status (i.e. a green card)? Here’s what Rubio told Red State:

First, those who have violated our immigration laws must come forward and undergo a background check. If they have committed a serious crime, they will be deported. If they have not, they will have two choices. They can avail themselves of the current law which requires them to return to their native country, wait ten years and then apply for a green card. Or if they decide to remain in the United States, they will do so under the equivalent of a non-immigrant work permit by paying a substantial fine and back taxes. If they choose the non-immigrant work visa, they will not qualify for any federal benefits, including ObamaCare.

Those who choose the non-immigrant work permit will not be allowed to apply for a green card for a substantial period of time. And they will not be allowed to apply until the enforcement mechanisms outlined above are in place. Thereafter, once these conditions are met, and if they have not violated any laws while holding the work permit, the only thing they will be allowed to do is apply for a green card using the same process everyone else uses. That is, they apply, they wait in line behind everyone who has applied before them and when their turn comes up, they have to qualify for one of the existing green card programs.

I noticed the “substantial period of time” language last week and speculated that “substantial” must mean “more than 10 years.” Otherwise, there’s no strong incentive for an illegal immigrant who wants citizenship to choose the first option offered by Rubio, leaving the U.S. and applying for a green card through normal channels after waiting, er … 10 years. Granted, you could avoid the “substantial fine and back taxes” that are a condition of obtaining a work visa by going that route, and if — if — Rubio gets his way on using enforcement as a trigger for citizenship, you’d avoid whatever extra small delay is involved before the border is officially certified as “secure.” But if they’re serious about punishing illegals by sending them to the back of the line behind law-abiding green-card applicants, how can the wait time be roughly the same for both groups?

And yet, if Durbin and Menendez have their way, it will be:

The process “is likely to be in the range of 10 years, I say in the range because we have not nailed this down,” Durbin said. He said various factors go into the timeline, including the need to establish border security first, something Republicans have insisted on…

“If you think about it, under current law there is a 10-year bar, so the bottom line is you would have to wait anyway,” Menendez said. “The difference is you would get the opportunity to be here, to come forward, to work, to travel, and in doing so to earn your pathway” to citizenship.

Surely immigration advocates must be pleased that illegals will face approximately the same time frame for permanent residency as other applicants, right? Wrong:

A green card is the crucial first step toward citizenship although it takes up to five years for a green card holder to become a citizen under current law. So if it takes 10 years to get a green card, the total wait time for citizenship could be closer to 15, advocates fear.

“We understand that bipartisan lawmaking requires compromise. But we think waiting 15 years for a chance to become a citizen is too long,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice. “We will continue to fight for a clear, direct and inclusive path to citizenship that has achievable requirements and a more reasonable time frame.”

Translation: Democrats don’t have a lot of leeway with immigration special-interest groups to make the “substantial period of time” much more substantial than 10 years. Which is ironic, because the group they’re ostensibly fighting for here — illegals — might very well accept Rubio’s longer time frame for citizenship in exchange for the right to work legally in America immediately. That’s been Raul Labrador’s point all along: Most illegals he’s encountered as an immigration lawyer don’t care about becoming citizens, he claims, they care about jobs. Democrats, of course, care about the opposite; they’re willing to supply cheap labor to business even if it depresses wages for U.S. citizens in the expectation that they’ll net millions more Latino votes a decade or so from now. (And big labor is happy to support them in the expectation that today’s illegal worker is tomorrow’s legalized dues-paying union member.) So the 10-year timeline for green-card eligibility may budge a little among Schumer and crew but it won’t budge much. Will Rubio?