Immigration Reform Might Actually Get Done

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U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's annual birthday fundraiser, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, in Altoona, Iowa. Photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP/Corbis

An all-star group of eight senators, including Marco Rubio, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Chuck Schumer, is set to unveil its bipartisan plan to revamp the country's immigration laws, and everyone is feeling pretty optimistic. While the specifics still need some working out, the idea is to tackle border security and visa oversight first, so as not to make the Republicans look bad, and then move on to citizenship without offering anything that too closely resembles that dreaded term amnesty. But after the demographics of the 2012 election appropriately shook up some leading conservatives, they appear ready to compromise.

President Obama will give a speech on his own immigration ideas in Las Vegas on Tuesday, and many of his proposals will likely dovetail with those from the Gang of Eight.

"As the President has made clear for some time, immigration reform is an important priority and he is pleased that progress is being made with bipartisan support," said White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest. "At the same time, he will not be satisfied until there is meaningful reform and he will continue to urge Congress to act until that is achieved. The President looks forward to redoubling the administration's efforts to work with Congress on this important issue this week."

As usual, the biggest obstacle will be Republicans in the House, but as Politico notes, even Paul Ryan "recently endorsed Rubio's approach and could be an important partner in selling the legislation to conservatives." With his eye toward 2016, Rubio wrote an op-ed in the Las Vegas Review Journal yesterday arguing, "We can't round up millions of people and deport them … But we also can't fix our broken immigration system if we provide incentives for people to come here illegally — precisely the signal a blanket amnesty would send." 

The major tenets of their plan, as summarized by CBS and the AP, are as follows:

-Creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here, contingent upon securing the border and better tracking of people here on visas.

-Reforming the legal immigration system, including awarding green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in science, math, technology or engineering from an American university.

-Creating an effective employment verification system to ensure that employers do not hire illegal immigrants.

-Allowing more low-skill workers into the country and allowing employers to hire immigrants if they can demonstrate they couldn't recruit a U.S. citizen; and establishing an agricultural worker program.

"What's changed, honestly, is that there is a new, I think, appreciation on both sides of the aisle — including maybe more importantly on the Republican side of the aisle — that we have to enact a comprehensive immigration reform bill," said Senator John McCain, who had his own failure passing bipartisan immigration reform in 2007, on This Week yesterday. "I think the time is right."