Behind the maneuvering over immigration, both parties look for advantage

The White House has floated a plan that would allow illegal immigrants to become permanent residents of the United States, putting them on a path to eventual citizenship. Republicans aren't happy, but they're under pressure to back comprehensive immigration reform.

Mel Evans/AP
Immigrant-rights advocates gather near Ellis Island Feb. 13 in Liberty State Park, Jersey City, N.J., before marching to an immigrant detention center in northern New Jersey to protest the immigrant detention system.

The White House floats an idea that would allow illegal immigrants to become permanent residents of the United States, putting them on a path to eventual citizenship. GOP immigration point man and designated party Hispanic Sen. Marco Rubio swats it down as “dead on arrival.” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough pushes back, saying (in essence), “Fine. If you don’t like it, then get your congressional colleagues to come up with a better idea.”

That’s a 24-hour snapshot of the latest maneuvering between the Obama administration and Republican lawmakers over one of the most contentious and potentially profound issues in Washington today.

The White House draft plan (first reported by USA Today) would allow illegal immigrants to become legal permanent residents (“green card” holders) within eight years.

RECOMMENDED: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

“The plan also would provide for more security funding and requires business owners to check the immigration status of new hires within four years,” USA Today reported Saturday. “In addition, the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants could apply for a newly created ‘Lawful Prospective Immigrant’ visa, under the draft bill being written by the White House. If approved, they could then apply for the same provisional legal status for their spouse or children living outside the country, according to the draft.”

Senator Rubio is a member of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators working on immigration legislation. (The others are Democrats Michael Bennet of Colorado, Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and John McCain of Arizona.)

Meanwhile, reports The Hill newspaper, “a secretive House group is said to be close to its own proposal.” This group is reported to include Democratic Reps. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, and Xavier Becerra and Zoe Lofgren of California, and Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, and John Carter and Sam Johnson of Texas.

In a statement Saturday, Rubio said, “It’s a mistake for the White House to draft immigration legislation without seeking input from Republican members of Congress.”

“President Obama’s leaked immigration proposal is disappointing to those of us working on a serious solution,” Rubio said. “The president’s bill repeats the failures of past legislation. It fails to follow through on previously broken promises to secure our borders, creates a special pathway that puts those who broke our immigration laws at an advantage over those who chose to do things the right way and come here legally, and does nothing to address guest workers or future flow, which serious immigration experts agree is critical to preventing future influxes of illegal immigrants.”

“If actually proposed, the president’s bill would be dead on arrival in Congress, leaving us with unsecured borders and a broken legal immigration system for years to come,” Rubio said.

Among other things, the White House draft for permanent resident status is reported by various news sources to include a criminal background check, paying back taxes, and demonstrating proficiency in English and in US and American government history. The draft also expands the E-Verify programs for employers to check on the immigration status of prospective employees.

“The bill calls for an unspecified increase in the border patrol, allows the Department of Homeland Security to expand technological improvements along the border, and adds 140 new immigration judges to process the heavy flow of people who violate immigration laws,” USA Today reported.

Speaking on the Sunday TV talk shows, Mr. McDonough urged lawmakers to act quickly and comprehensively on immigration – an issue of high importance to both parties, especially Republicans who clearly need to improve their position among Hispanic voters.

“He [Rubio] says it's ‘dead on arrival’ if it’s proposed. Well, let’s make sure that it doesn’t have to be proposed,” McDonough said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Let’s make sure that that group up there, the gang of eight, makes the good progress on these efforts as much as they say they want to.”

On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” McDonough said, “I hope that Republicans and Democrats up there don't get involved in some typical Washington back and forth sideshow here, and rather just roll up their sleeves and get to work on writing a comprehensive immigration reform bill."

President Obama himself is pressuring Congress to act as well.

“Let’s get this done,” he said in his State of the Union message last week. “Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months and I will sign it right away, and America will be better for it.”

RECOMMENDED: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

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