Report: Bipartisan Senate group close to a deal on path to legal status for illegals

I’m … not sure this is news. The chief objection from border hawks to the bipartisan plan announced in January was that it would grant probationary legal status to illegals on the first day, immediately upon passage. A path to citizenship would, if Rubio gets his way, be granted later after there have been measurable improvements to border security, but that’s a red herring. Citizenship for illegals is a fait accompli once legal status is granted; it’s purely a question of when. The mystery was whether he and Republicans would stick with that scheme, conditioning citizenship on better enforcement, or whether they’d wise up, take a tougher stance, and demand better enforcement before granting any legal status.

If the LAT is right, they caved. Illegals get probationary legal status right away, subject to the standard proposed requirements of paying a fine, having no criminal record, etc:

Eight senators who have spent weeks trying to write a bipartisan bill to overhaul immigration laws have privately agreed on the most contentious part of the draft — how to offer legal status to the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants.

According to aides familiar with the closed-door negotiations, the bill would require illegal immigrants to register with Homeland Security Department authorities, file federal income taxes for their time in America and pay a still-to-be-determined fine. They also must have a clean law enforcement record.

Once granted probationary legal status, immigrants would be allowed to work but would be barred from receiving federal public benefits, including food stamps, family cash assistance, Medicaid and unemployment insurance…

Still undecided is how long illegal immigrants would need to wait before they could apply for permanent resident status and eventually become citizens. The delay for a green card probably would be 10 years or longer, the aides said.

Per Conn Carroll, it’s amazing that after two months of media heavy breathing about the “Gang of Eight” and their big bipartisan compromise on comprehensive reform, this is the only major issue they’ve actually agreed on so far. Nothing yet on border security, nothing yet on guest workers, nothing yet even on citizenship and how long it’ll take. The singular point of agreement is how quickly illegals get legal status. Result: Pretty darned quickly. Mickey Kaus has a post today wondering if comprehensive reform can stand up to intense scrutiny if/when the Senate finally takes it up as its top priority. I actually agree with Carroll in thinking we’ll never reach that point, at least not with the Gang of Eight bill as a starting baseline. If it takes 10 weeks to agree on probationary legal status, how long will it take for a truly difficult issue like visas?

I do agree with Kaus, though, that Obama sincerely wants to pass immigration reform in the next two years. There’s a theory that O would rather sabotage the Gang of Eight, watch negotiations fall apart, and then demagogue the hell out of the GOP in hopes of getting Latinos to turn out en masse next year and hand the House back to the Democrats. Then he can pass immigration reform, and a whole lot more, with his new Democratic Congress. Two problems with that. One: Obama wants to share “credit” with Republicans on immigration if possible because, for the GOP, “credit” is more likely to turn into blame. If a bipartisan bill passes, the Democrats get most of the credit with Latinos because it’ll be a Democratic president whose administration produced reform. Meanwhile, pro-reform Republicans will have to deal with a backlash among their base, which means GOP infighting and, maybe, some opportunities for Dems to claim that Republican voters are hostile to Latinos notwithstanding congressional Republicans’ support for the bill. If, by contrast, comprehensive reform passes through a Congress controlled by Democrats in 2015, the backlash among border hawks falls squarely on the Dems in 2016. Essentially, he needs the GOP on this so that they can serve as a lightning rod.

Two: There’s no compelling reason to think Democrats can retake the House next year even if comprehensive reform collapses this summer. Obama and OFA will try their hardest to use it to mobilize Latinos, but having yet another immigration failure happen on a Democratic president’s watch will complicate that. Plus, with so many House districts already safely red, the threat of a pro-amnesty backlash doing much damage is minimal. O might console himself with the thought that if he’s serious about passing something before he leaves office, he’s got a decent shot of doing that in 2015-16 even with the House still in Republican hands. The GOP will be eager to build some sort of goodwill with Latinos before the next presidential election; for just that reason, the conservative base will probably be more forgiving of a bad compromise two years from now than they are now. But that’s an awfully risky bet for Obama to make given changing political currents. If he wants to finally set those millions of illegals on the path to becoming Democratic voters, best to seize the semi-opportunity he has now with Marco Rubio as his point man.