For immigration reform advocates, it’s countdown time. As the clock ticks, there are some key questions. Will an immigration bill be introduced next week? Are both the Senate and House on track to introduce legislation at least in the next few weeks? And does it matter who is first?
As to the first question, the answer is – maybe.
“All the hard negotiation has been done,” said a Senate aide, speaking about the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” who have been meeting continuously on the issue. However, progress does not mean a done deal.
“Drafting the language is labor intensive. It is a complex bill, and there are legal, economic and border issues,” added the aide. In other words, this is where the rubber hits the road, and that is why some legislators are still cautious.
“Senator Rubio is optimistic that legislation will be introduced that can attain conservative support, because it’s in line with the principles we have discussed for months,” says Alex Burgos, communications director for Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio, one of the Senate’s Gang of Eight. Burgos says, however, that “if the final bill doesn’t meet these principles, Senator Rubio won’t be able to support it.”
Like in the Senate, the House has made significant progress too. One example of this is how some conservative Republicans, among them Idaho Latino Republican Congressman Raul Labrador, have shifted their thinking on a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, which was one of the sticking points in previous debates about immigration. Labrador has been named as one of key lawmakers working on a House immigration reform bill.
“To those who are here illegally, we can offer a fair chance to redeem themselves,” said Labrador in a recent editorial in the Los Angeles Times. The Idaho Republican Latino, who practiced immigration law for over a decade, said “anyone who wants to become a naturalized citizen of the United States is welcome to apply,” though he stressed the pathway should be longer and more stringent for undocumented immigrants as compared to immigrants who are here legally or for Dreamers.
Labrador’s recent comments are significant, since he had said in the past that he did not know if he could support an eventual path to citizenship for those who were in this country illegally.
Aides in both the Senate and House stress both chambers have been working independently of each other. “The Senate has operated on its own timeline with the thinking that what comes out of the House will be slightly to the right but similar to the Senate’s in some ways,” says an aide, who says the Republican-led House has had more of a challenge in reaching a consensus on immigration.
As to whether the Senate introduces the immigration bill first or the House beats them to it is not the main issue, says an aide, who does not think one plan would really derail the other. “In fact, what’s important is that both bills are out at the same time so the debate can take place concurrently and then you are able to reconcile in a bill – that is what is important.”
Immigration reform advocates say that for now, things seem to be moving forward.
“There is movement on both chambers, and this clearly denotes there is interest in getting to the finish line, and there is leadership in the House making sure this can happen,” says Clarissa Martinez de Castro, director of Immigration and National Campaigns for the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). On the Senate side, Martinez de Castro says “we are expecting a Senate bill on immigration reform to be introduced this month,” she says.
Some Senators involved in the negotiations have not been shy about putting a timeline on events. “I am very, very optimistic that we will have an agreement among the eight of us next week,” said New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer on Meet the Press last Sunday.
Over at the House side, a staffer from the office of Illinois Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez was less specific about timing – but confident about the end goal.
“Congressman Gutierrez is very optimistic that bipartisan bills will pass in both Houses and get signed by the President this year,” said the staffer.
Whether a bipartisan bill is introduced next week or not – stay tuned.