Time short for immigration reform plan

As immigration reform advocates prepare to march on Washington, a draft bipartisan plan gets scrutiny.

Rob Carr/AP
Saul Linares (l.), arrives at a Baltimore church on Thursday after walking the past six days from Hempstead, N.Y. Linares, a factory worker, will join thousands of other immigrants in Washington, D.C. Sunday to dramatize their pleas for immigration reform.

Sunday’s immigration march on Washington comes in a tiny window of opportunity before next fall’s election, and after a year preoccupied by healthcare reform, say immigrants rights groups.

“The feeling is that if we don’t get this passed right now, it will be another two to three years because of the fall election, the following year as a lead-up to a presidential election,” says Robert Gittelson, a reform advocate affiliated with Fair Immigration Reform Movement.

He and other pro-immigrant groups are delighted with the draft framework for immigration reform that Sens. Charles Schumer (D) of new York and Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina have released.

As broadly outlined in the Washington Post Thursday, the plan calls for four pillars:

  • Requiring biometric Social Security cards to ensure that illegal workers cannot get job.
  • Fulfilling and strengthening US commitments on border security and interior enforcement.
  • Creating a process for admitting temporary workers.
  • Implementing a tough but fair path to legalization for those already here.

The strength of the blueprint lies in the political strategy employed, placing national security at the top of the agenda, observers say.

"The Graham/Schumer blueprint has recalibrated previous legislation regarding comprehensive immigration reform,” writes Catherine Wilson, an immigration specialist at Villanova University in Villanova, Pa., “by emphasizing at the outset national security concerns and economic contributions of immigrants in the United States, as opposed to a ‘path to citizenship.’ ”

Ms. Wilson notes that Sen. John McCain (R), during his 2008 presidential campaign, emphasized that the failure of comprehensive immigration reform in 2006 and 2007 was due to the inability of Congress to provide credible talking points on security issues surrounding immigration. 
"The weakness lies not in the particular plan of legislation, but in the difficulty in finding a policy window for comprehensive reform, at a time of economic uncertainty and partisan wrangling over the healthcare bill," she says.

Swift reaction to the plan has come from all sides.

“It's just the same grand bargain of amnesty and increased immigration in exchange for promises of future enforcement,” says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. Mr. Krikorian says the plan will have difficulty getting off the ground. “Until labor agrees to support an indentured labor program for temporary workers, business isn't going to back any bill and nothing's going to move.”

Others called the plan more of the same at a precarious political moment. “[This] is a blatant attempt by the president to buy the votes of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to support his healthcare reform bill," says Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "The price of their support for the healthcare bill was the revival of amnesty for millions of illegal aliens who, once legalized, would add considerably to the cost of the healthcare package."

Pro-immigration activists praised Schumer and Graham's initiative and welcome the security changes the plan would institute.

“Now our job is to ensure that this platform gets transformed into actual legislation that is fair and practical,” says Angelica Salas, president of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). She is worried that certain details mentioned by Schumer and Graham – paying back taxes, learning English, admitting to crimes – will turn into overburdened obstacles instead of amounting to true reform.

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