Liftoff may be near in Washington on meaningful immigration reform. The “gang of eight” — four Democratic and four Republican senators — says it has brokered a deal after months of work.
The group consists of Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida, Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Chuck Schumer of New York, and Michael Bennet of Colorado.
Mr. McCain is a long-time advocate of immigration reform who tried and failed to pass a comprehensive bill he wrote with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts in 2006. Mr. McCain recanted in the 2008 presidential campaign, but now has returned to his original position.
Mr. Durbin, the Senate majority whip, was chief sponsor of the original DREAM Act, which would give undocumented young people residency status and a path to citizenship.
Mr. Rubio is the GOP’s rising star. He insists the gang’s work will not be done until he says it is, but veterans such as Mr. McCain and Mr. Durbin are unlikely to be intimidated by that assertion.
The key element in the senators’ plan is a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. Mr. Rubio, presumably as part of the GOP’s new outreach to Latinos, wants to call it a path to a green card — a work permit as a precursor to citizenship.
The proposal would provide a new class of visas for low-skilled workers, secure the nation’s borders, crack down on employers who violate immigration law, and improve legal immigration, along with creating the pathway to legal residence for undocumented immigrants.
The goal is to get a bill before the Senate next month, with a floor vote by June or July. Its sponsors say that timetable is possible.
It takes 60 votes to filibuster-proof a bill in the Senate, which includes 45 Republicans. The “gang of eight” will not get 20 Republican votes for the bill, but if it it can get 10, that should be enough.
Even if it passes, you might expect the Senate bill to run aground in the House of Representatives, which opposes all things progressive and sometimes all things necessary and pragmatic. But a separate House version of immigration reform has been in the works for a year. And though it is less comprehensive, it also includes a proposed path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who are already here.
So something good may happen on immigration. And there may be enough votes to override the extreme right.
Polls show a national consensus on immigration reform, but it still will require some selling. Reformers have been offering their ideas for 20 years. If a bill passes, Americans will owe Senator Kennedy a posthumous debt.