President Obama may not be the biggest fan of Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) much-promoted plan to delay a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants until the southern border is officially certified as secure, but an administration official said Thursday that the inclusion of such a “trigger” wouldn’t necessarily wreck a final deal.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest gave a flat “no” to reporters on Air Force One when asked Thursday if keeping reforms detached from a trigger was “non-negotiable point,” but stopped far short of endorsing the idea.
“No, it’s the view of the President that border security should be part of fixing our broken immigration system,” Earnest said. “But the other thing that should be part of that is a clear path to citizenship. And that’s what we’re working on.”
Earnest added that “the President is interested in working with senators on both sides of the aisle, including with Senator Rubio to get this done.”
Rubio has been the leading spokesmen for making border security a prerequisite to allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for green cards, an idea that was included in a bipartisan Senate plan that he helped negotiate. Under the framework, a number of new security measures — such as updated procedures and technology — would have to be implemented and verified before the next phase takes effect. The process would be overseen by a commission of Southwestern governors and other state leaders who, according to senators working on the bill, would likely be limited to an advisory role. The precise metrics needed to determine whether the border is sufficiently secure enough to allow immigrants to apply for permanent residency are still being negotiated, making it hard for any side to strongly endorse or disavow the idea.
But while details are still limited on the trigger, the Florida senator demanded the White House embrace his plan on Wednesday after Homeland Security Janet Napolitano expressed lukewarm interest at a Senate hearing the same day.
“If we are going to pass bipartisan immigration reform this year, the Administration must accept the principle that security triggers must be met before anyone who is currently undocumented is allowed to apply for a green card,” Rubio said in a statement. “This is a principle agreed to by the bipartisan group of senators I am working with and it is something that must be included in any legislative proposal if it is to be successful.”
Obama has not ruled out a trigger himself, but did not include it in his administration’s own framework for a bill. The president stressed in recent weeks that he wants a path to citizenship to be earned only after paying fines, back taxes, learning English, and waiting for legal immigrants to be approved first, but also clearly attainable via a concrete set of steps that immigrants could identify at the outset of a bill.
This post has been updated.
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.