Several key Senate Republicans have joined four Democrats to develop the framework of a plan for comprehensive immigration reform.
There are many details still to be worked out and the political obstacles, especially in the House, remain formidable but not insurmountable. The relatively mild political outcry that greeted President Barack Obama’s series of executive orders allowing the children of illegal immigrants to legally work and attend school in the United States offers some evidence of a changing climate.
The Republican senators behind the plan include a spectrum of respected conservatives: John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and, perhaps most significant, freshman Marco Rubio of Florida, a rising star of Cuban descent frequently mentioned for a spot on the party’s national ticket.
The Democrats are: Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois; Charles Schumer of New York, No. 4 in the party leadership; Robert Menendez of New Jersey; and Michael Bennet of Colorado.
An early test of the group’s viability will be how many other mainstream lawmakers sign on to their plan – a lot of other bipartisan groups have found themselves alone when the inevitable political blowback starts – and, of course, how much support they get from the White House, which is unveiling a plan of its own.
The senators’ plan creates a path to citizenship – a difficult one, to be sure – for the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants already here; provides green cards to foreign students obtaining advanced degrees in science, math, engineering and technology; makes it easier for lower skilled and agricultural workers to enter the country temporarily to take manual jobs that Americans shun; and creates electronic IDs and an effective employer-verification system.
Both Presidents Obama and George W. Bush tried and failed to pass immigration reform plans. But the political calculus has indeed changed, and perhaps this third try will succeed where the others failed.