Immigration reform: Is 'amnesty' a possibility now?
Congress seems primed to address immigration reform in 2013, and even a path to citizenship – which critics deride as 'amnesty' for illegals – may be on the table. The shift in the national conversation came suddenly. Here's why.
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And while Republicans are on board now, there's a reason they've been hesitant to tackle immigration reform in the past. For one, a vocal part of their base views any form of citizenship for illegal immigrants as a repudiation of the rule of law. Whether these voters – or their representatives – can be persuaded to accept amnesty is an open question.Skip to next paragraph
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"We can negotiate about the DREAMers and things like that, but the vast, vast majority of the people who are here illegally – say 12 million people – I think they came here after the age of 18. They knowingly violated the law, and we have to have respect for our law," Labrador says.
Moreover, increasing legal immigration above the current level of 1 million annually could be seen as a blow to those born in America.
Hurting "the American worker with bad immigration policy is not going to get [Republicans] more Hispanic votes," says Roy Beck, executive director of Numbers USA, a group that advocates lower immigration levels. "They've got to do something else."
In that respect, increasing legal immigration might be a difficult sell in 2013.
"I do not see Congress acting in this area in a robust way until the labor market is stronger," says Andrew Schoenholtz, deputy director for the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University. "Just how strong is hard to tell."
And then there are the questions that perhaps matter most in the Beltway: Whose plan is on the table first? Which party sets the initial terms for debate?
"The best thing to happen is for some bipartisan thing to get out there first. What's wrong with the debate is winners and losers," Mr. Morrison says. "If you think you're going to beat the other guy into submission with your plan, regardless of what side you're on, the reaction you're going to get is opposition."
A political environment more favorable to immigration reform, however, builds upon longstanding bipartisan relationships. Gutierrez and Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, back from the campaign trail as Mr. Romney's vice presidential running mate, smiled broadly as they walked together into the House chamber for a vote in mid-December.
Gutierrez, a progressive Hispanic Democrat from Chicago, and Representative Ryan, a man Democrats caricatured as pushing Grandma off a cliff with his proposals to change entitlement programs for the elderly, may seem like an odd couple. But back in 2005, Ryan was an original cosponsor of Gutierrez's immigration-reform proposal.
"They've been good friends," says a Ryan spokesman. "They've had a working relationship on this issue and really do see it in the same, pragmatic way."
In Ryan, Gutierrez sees a model for a conservative coming to the issue out of conviction, not political expediency.
"I think he's doing it because it's a reflection of his deep Catholic values, and he wants to get it done," Gutierrez says. "There are a multitude of reasons that people have [come to support immigration reform, and] for the most part what I've seen is they are very sincere and they are genuine."
"All we're doing," Gutierrez says, "is catching up."
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