A bipartisan group of members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin talks today on immigration reform. The leaders of the group, Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) said earlier this month that the senators wanted to formally begin meeting to restart immigration reform efforts after the April break. Today is the day.
It’s easy to be cynical and say we’ve seen this show before. Much ado is made of a bipartisan group genuinely interested in immigration reform coming together to give it a shot. Then just as a deal looks ready to be agreed upon, something falls through at the last minute and nothing happens. The last time I remember a major effort being made was in 2013 with the Gang of Eight. Marco Rubio, a Tea Party favorite, was a member of the group. He ended up being punished for his participation when he ran for the Republican nomination for president in 2016. He was accused of being in favor of blanket amnesty for illegal immigrants, which was hyperbole from his opponents. Since the 2013 meetings failed to produce results, mostly because Senator Schumer made last minute demands of that very issue, amnesty, lawmakers have been reluctant to wade back into the issue. Now we have the Biden border crisis and who believes real immigration reform will be accomplished in an election year? It’s highly unlikely.
Perhaps one issue can be agreed on by the group. That would be Title 42. There is bipartisan criticism of Biden for his bone-headed decision to end the policy on May 23. The administration points to the CDC as cover for the decision but the CDC doesn’t set policy, it makes recommendations. Biden didn’t have to agree with its recommendation to go ahead and end Title 42 instead of renewing it in May, yet he did because he doesn’t care about the southern border. The consequences of ending Title 42 now, when the southern border is already in chaos, are going to be devastating to border communities as well as personnel working on the ground.
This time around, the senators say they will use bipartisan immigration-related bills that have already been introduced to try to put together a package that passes the 60 vote threshold needed to move through the Senate. There is no need to start from scratch.
“We’ve got a list. We’ve got a starting list. There could be some more. But it’s a starting point. I’ve talked to four or five Republican senators today. There’s a genuine interest in doing something,” Durbin said while warning against the talks becoming “top-heavy.”
That is a good start. Do immigration reform one step at a time in small bites instead of going for big, sweeping legislation. We’ll see how long that intention lasts. Tillis says the focus will remain on proposals with bipartisan support.
What you have to do obviously is you take a look at the proposals in isolation then you have to reconcile them against how you would put them together for something that would work as a package,” Tillis told The Hill.
It all sounds reasonable so far but, again, that is how it always begins. This will all depend on how long the group can work together without one side (looking at you, Durbin) demanding progressive policy instead of a more measured approach that is acceptable to mainstream Americans. In past negotiations, Tillis has supported a 15 year plan for some illegal immigrants who came here as young children to earn a pathway to legal residence. It was described as a conservative alternative for Dreamers. It’s unlikely that any kind of talk about a pathway to legal residence, much less citizenship, will be acceptable now. Not in the midst of the Biden border crisis and the coming explosion of migrants coming to the border once Title 42 goes away next month.
Title 42 has become such a dominant topic of discussion that immigration reform talks may hinge on that subject, at least for now. Durbin doesn’t sound too confident that working around Title 42 will be possible for long.
A GOP demand for a vote to effectively block the administration from lifting Title 42, which has also gotten snagged by a court fight, has stalemated a deal for $10 billion in coronavirus aid. Republicans view the two issues as related because the administration’s decision to lift Title 42 comes as there is a broader coronavirus public health emergency still in effect.
Asked if he would try to keep the Title 42 fight separate from the immigration group talks, Durbin replied, “As far as we can.”
Other members of the group will be Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Alex Padilla (D-CA). Durbin may not want Title 42 to be a part of the discussion, but Senate Republicans have held up $10B in coronavirus aid because of the administration’s confirmation that it will end the policy in May. They will not vote on that bill until DHS shows a real plan to deal with the coming increase in the flood of illegal migrants looking to cross the southern border. the administration doesn’t want the embarrassment of the aid bill not passing. Biden needs some kind of success going into November.
Secretary Mayorkas issued a memo before appearing in front of a congressional committee to answer questions Wednesday. It was called a “six pillar” plan that was full of disappointment for both sides of the aisle. The Republican senators rightly point out that ending a public health policy – Title 42- because the pandemic is over but keeping the southern border wide open to anyone crossing it makes no sense. Unfortunately, the DHS plan does not include any new ideas or plans, only an increase in spending. That’s the Democrat way. Just keep throwing money at a problem and hope that something will change without changing policy or procedures.
Color me skeptical that this group will make much progress. We’ll see how far they get as the midterm elections in November are just around the corner.