GOP's Rand Paul, Dems' Luis Gutierrez in step on immigration reform
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D) and Sen. Rand Paul (R), in separate forums Tuesday, struck common ground on some of the thorniest issues surrounding immigration reform. Is a bipartisan deal close?
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“I don’t really think it’s our insistence anymore.... I think if anything, there is greater consensus on the issue of citizenship,” Gutierrez said. “There won’t be a ‘special.’ ”Skip to next paragraph
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The road to citizenship, he said, is “perhaps not an easy path or a uniform path for every undocumented immigrant who is legalizing to arrive at a green card at the end of the exact same process, taking the exact same number of years for every person legalizing, but I will not prohibit immigrants who are legalizing from ever being citizens if they choose to apply.”
On perhaps the thorniest policy issue of the immigration debate – the matter of “future flows,” or how many foreign workers and immigrants to allow into the US each year – the two lawmakers also struck common ground.
“The Republican Party must embrace more legal immigration,” Paul said plainly.
Those few words pack a direct rebuff to low-immigration advocacy groups, who hold great sway among Republican lawmakers, and to those GOP members who say more immigration hurts American workers more than it helps the overall economy.
On the flip side, Gutierrez endorsed more foreigners coming to the US for work in the future (a desired prize of corporate America and the agriculture industry) even as he stressed the need for employee protections (a key demand of labor unions).
“You cannot do this without future flows. Democrats have to come to the table and understand that our economy needs workers,” he said. “The problem is, you have to protect workers who are working those fields, too. We’ll get the future flows. We have to make sure that the future flows have a relationship with needs.”
With the Senate’s “gang of eight” lawmakers split between Republicans and Democrats, the addition of Paul – who on Tuesday broadly supported the principles the Senate gang laid out earlier this year – the Senate now appears to have at least the 60 votes needed (all 55 Democrats and five Republicans) to defeat a filibuster.
In the House, Rep. Raul Labrador (R) of Idaho said last week that the House working group, which includes Gutierrez, may finish its work before the Senate does. The Senate is expected to introduce immigration legislation in early April.
That doesn’t mean immigration reform is a done deal. The “in principle” agreements still need to become "on paper" legislation, and lawmakers who are skeptical of boosting immigration levels or legalizing the undocumented, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama, are not going to be pushed aside. On Tuesday, Senator Sessions and several other Republicans sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D) of Vermont asking for lengthy committee consideration of any potential immigration legislation.
“A sound process will take months, not days or weeks,” Sessions said in an e-mailed statement, citing the experience of the much-maligned health-care reform law. “And we’d be better off taking a step-by-step approach than trying to deal with these complex and emotional issues in one massive piece of legislation.... The consequences are simply too profound for American workers and taxpayers to rush through some thousand page amnesty bill to passage only to find out what’s in it later.”
Immigration advocates, however, are not keen on the prospect of months of hearings on proposed reforms. “We are under a time pressure to resolve this issue because the moment is right politically and the further away we get from Election Day 2012,” Gutierrez said, “the less urgency there will be.”
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