On Tuesday, the “Gang of Eight” senators, four Democrats and four Republicans, announced a proposal to overhaul the immigration system. If all goes as planned in Washington, 11 million immigrants in the United States will have a path to citizenship by the spring. The senators said they would accomplish reform through one big comprehensive measure rather than several smaller pieces. Beyond the remarkable shift in federal policy, just hearing the word “bipartisan” — which seemed unthinkable only a year ago — is striking.
Under the senators’ plan, most illegal immigrants would be able to apply to become permanent residents, a crucial first step toward citizenship. The plan also creates an employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and put an end to hiring unauthorized workers.
As for the Republicans, the cynics among us might say the GOP is finally realizing the obvious: the demographics are not in their favor, and their party risks permanent obsolescence if it can’t tap into support from the Latino community. In the 2012 election, the GOP got a mere 29 percent of the Latino vote, a crushing defeat in a voting block that is expected to double by 2030. So unless Republicans want 2014 and 2016 election results to be like those of 2012, they need to embrace reform.
But despite the newfound flexibility, the “Gang of Eight” pushed to beef up border security in to order to bring the more conservative to the table. And so the path to citizenship for 11 million will happen only if new and tougher enforcement tools are used. Border agents could soon see new technology, including drones. Yes, drones. Plus a nationwide tracking system whose function will be to ensure illegal immigrants leave the country when required.
And in the most controversial element, all of this will need to be certified by a commission of border-state governors, law enforcement officials and community leaders. Some see risks that the success of the entire plan will rest in the hands of politicians like Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.
President Obama says he likes the Senate blueprint and may very well skip his own proposal and back the “Gang of Eights.” But all of this still has to survive the House, and if Boehner can get his caucus together, it might have a chance. We’ll just have to see what other wonders 2013 has in store for us.