Senators sent a rare bipartisan — and bilingual — message on Monday, urging the White House and Congress to join them in enacting comprehensive immigration reform that would legalize many of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), one of eight Senators announcing a new legislative framework, confidently set a goal of passing a bill by late spring or early summer.
“We still have a long way to go but this bipartisan blueprint is a major breakthrough,” Schumer said. “We do not want immigration as a wedge issue, we want a bipartisan bill that solves the problem.”
Or as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) put it: “En Espanol: ‘¡Vámonos!’”
No one better embodied the shifting politics on this issue than McCain, who led the 2007 immigration push with the late Ted Kennedy only to follow his party to the right and oppose even a bill granting a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants, the DREAM Act, in 2010. Now he’s on the side of reform once again, and publicly welcoming support from former opponent President Obama, who will deliver his own remarks on immigration reform Tuesday in Nevada.
Asked why he felt he had a better chance of success this time, McCain offered a blunt response.
“Elections,” he said. “Elections. The Republican Party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens.”
Schumer and McCain were joined by Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (IL) and Robert Menendez (NJ), as well as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), the latter of whom is considered a critical ambassador on the right in selling the plan. Menendez and Rubio spoke at significant length in Spanish at the event, directly addressing the many Hispanic media outlets present for their remarks.
“We are dealing with 11 million human beings who are here undocumented, the vast and enormous majority of whom have come here here in pursuit of what all of us would recognize as the American dream,” Rubio said.
Major questions remain as negotiations continue to fill out a fuller bill. There are still limited details as to how easily undocumented immigrants would be able to eventually apply for a green card and then citizenship. Experts warn the existing legal immigration system’s quotas and backlogs would make it impossible to naturalize the undocumented population. Menendez told TPM afterwards that issues like whether to expand the number of green cards available to help move the process along would be left to future negotiations.
Little information is available on the bill’s border security provisions, which in addition to improved technology and more stringent procedures, would include a commission of border state officials to oversee the process. That group appears to be non-binding and advisory in the bipartisan framework, but House Republicans could potentially seek to expand its powers.
Nonetheless, immigration reform advocates in the Latino, business, religious, and labor community generally offered up praise to the Senate group for getting the ball rolling. In just a few months, top Republicans — including some of the party’s brightest stars — have gone from a default border hawk stance to backing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. With that critical leap already completed, it’s far easier for the rest to snap into place.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.