Senate Democrats on Thursday sought to thread the political needle on immigration reform, offering a plan that mixes tough border controls with a pathway to citizenship for 12 million illegal immigrants. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he wouldn’t set a deadline for obtaining GOP buy-in for the plan, but the initial Republican reaction was decidedly negative.
Reid described the measure as an “invitation” to Republicans as he called for a new round of bipartisan talks. “I say to our Republican colleagues, work with us to fix this broken system … don’t just say no.” Reid refused to set a deadline for bipartisan efforts to produce a deal.
“I don’t think it would be wise for us to set an arbitrary deadline,” Reid said, adding that “we are patient … we need 60” votes to bring a bill to the floor.
But the early prognosis for a bipartisan outcome was not good.
In a joint statement, Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) — two of the leading GOP voices on immigration reform — rejected the framework and accused Reid and others of playing politics.
“A conceptual paper that promises everything to everyone is not the same as responsible legislation that compiles the best ideas from both sides of the aisle. The Senate Democrats’ proposal is nothing more than an attempt to score political points. It poisons the well for those of us who are working toward a more secure border and responsible, bipartisan reform of our immigration laws,” the Republican duo said.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) argued that “instead of fixing our broken borders, Washington politicos are playing a cynical game of introducing so-called immigration reform that I fear will turn into nothing more than amnesty.”
But Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) placed the measure in the context of Arizona’s controversial new immigration law and said this was no time to delay comprehensive immigration reform.
“Latinos and others do not believe they are second-class citizens. … We understand the history, not only of this country but of the history of the world, that when one group of people become a suspect class, when one group of people are blamed for all the problems of a nation, history has taught us that has a sad ending. We will not let that happen,” Menendez said, adding that Latinos will not “wait for the counsel of patience.”
Democratic aides have said that while Reid would prefer Republican buy-in, the Majority Leader would look to pursue the bill even if those efforts fail.
The 22-page legislative summary, based on the now-defunct talks between Graham and Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), would establish a series of border security benchmarks that must be met before broader reforms are enacted.
The bill also requires employers to ensure their workers are legal immigrants, includes new visa provisions for high-tech and low-skilled workers, and establishes a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented people in the U.S.
The framework won praise from President Barack Obama. “The proposal outlined today in the Senate is a very important step in the process of fixing our nation’s broken immigration system. I am especially pleased to see that this detailed outline is consistent with the bipartisan framework presented by Sens. Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham last month, and is grounded in the principles of responsibility and accountability,” Obama said in a statement.
Despite the glowing review from the White House, the proposal fell short among some Democratic allies. Service Employees International Union Executive Vice President Eliseo Medina said that while the union supports moving comprehensive legislation, the framework leaves much to be desired.
“While SEIU appreciates the leadership of Sens. Schumer, Menendez and Reid, we are deeply concerned with elements of their reform outline that appear to put enforcement-only mandates ahead of the practical immigration solutions that America needs,” Medina said.