Iowa reaction to latest immigration reform proposals (updated)

About an hour ago, President Barack Obama finished speaking to a Nevada audience about basic principles for comprehensive immigration reform. Yesterday four Democratic and four Republican U.S. senators unveiled a framework for a new immigration reform bill. Links and details about those proposals are after the jump, along with recent comments about immigration by some of the Iowans in Congress. I will update this post as needed with further reaction.

Obama doesn’t plan to send draft legislation to Congress for now, but said in today’s speech that he will do so if Congress fails to act. He praised the framework senators rolled out yesterday as generally consistent with his principles. Alexander Bolton posted a good summary of that framework at The Hill. Adam Serwer argued at Mother Jones that the bipartisan Senate proposal is unworkable. The role envisioned for a new “Southwestern border commission” is unclear. If the commission is non-binding, it may be just a fig leaf allowing Republicans to claim they moved to “secure the border” before granting any undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. But Republicans may push to give this commission real power. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida assured Rush Limbaugh today,

“Unless there’s real enforcement triggers we are not going to have a bill that moves on the opportunity to apply for a green card,” Rubio said. He added: “I’m not going to be part of a bidding war to see who can put the most lenient path forward” if Obama demands a smoother path to citizenship.

Senator Chuck Grassley was a co-sponsor of a 2003 version of the DREAM Act  but supported a filibuster that killed the DREAM Act in the Senate in late 2010. His office released this statement on January 28:

Senator Chuck Grassley, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, gave the following statement regarding the immigration proposal put forth by Senators John McCain, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, Jeff Flake, Chuck Schumer, Robert Menendez, Dick Durbin and Michael Bennet.

“We’ve seen efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform come and go with little success.  And, while efforts in the past have not been successful, most of us can agree that a long-term solution is needed.  Another Congress shouldn’t be faced with this problem again.  So, there’s a lot to be said for these members working together and moving the issue forward.  And, while I especially appreciate the group’s focus on legal avenues of immigration, there are a lot of questions to be answered on even the most mundane of topics.  The proposal also lacks specificity on a number of big, difficult issues such as preventing illegal hiring through E-Verify and reducing chain migration so there’s more focus on merit.

“In order for legislation of this magnitude to get the buy-in and support from the American people and their Senators, regular order must be restored in the Senate.  Chairman Leahy and I have spoken, and the Judiciary Committee is ready for hearings to consider legislation and move the process along.”

Grassley was a guest on Iowa Public Radio’s “River to River” program today and discussed immigration reform further with host Ben Kieffer.

Kate Cyrul Frischmann of Senator Tom Harkin’s Washington office provided this comment:

“Senator Harkin welcomes an open debate on immigration and has long supported taking an accountable, common-sense approach to immigration reform, as reflected in the legislation the Senate passed in 2006.  While it is a necessary step to agree on the principles of immigration reform, the devil is in the details.  Senator Harkin looks forward to working with his colleagues and the administration to flesh out their proposals, and hopes that when a real bill comes to the Senate floor, it paves the way for a long-term solution to our nation’s broken immigration system.”

Many people expect the U.S. Senate to pass some kind of immigration bill this year, but getting real reform through the U.S. House will be more challenging. Representative Steve King (IA-04) is a leading opponent of allowing any path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He tweeted yesterday, “Some Senators & Reps will soon announce how they plan to pardon law breakers & reward them with the objective of their crime. Very bad idea.” I’m waiting for him to explain what crime was committed by undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them to this country as young children. On Iowa Public Radio’s “River to River” program today, King stood by his efforts to revoke birthright citizenship for children born in this country to undocumented immigrants. He will be one of the loudest opponents of any comprehensive immigration reform.

King’s office released this statement on January 28:

Washington, DC- Congressman Steve King released the following statement today following the press conference held by the Senate ‘Gang of Eight’ who announced their broad proposals for comprehensive immigration reform:

“Eight Senators have now agreed to four basic legislative pillars or immigration policy principles,” said King. “They have 52 more Senators and 218 House Members to convince after they put their plan on paper in the form of a bill. I agree with most of the language in the very broad guidelines.

I would ask the Senators, do you agree with me that the United States should have an enforced immigration policy designed to enhance the economic, social, and cultural well being of the United States of America? Do you believe the Rule of Law and national sovereignty are essential components of a successful nation? Do you believe employers should be allowed to deduct wages and benefits paid to illegal aliens as a business expense? I’m guessing the ‘Gang of Eight’ would be inclined to agree with me on my principles. But, I predict that they will oppose my every effort to get them into law.

The president has demonstrated he will only enforce the laws that he likes. Promises of future law enforcement made under the 1986 Amnesty Act were not adequately kept by President Reagan. Why, then, would Americans accept the promise of this president?

I will continue to promote positive, common sense reforms that address our problems with illegal immigration, including reintroducing the New IDEA (Illegal Deduction Elimination Act) in the 113th Congress and I will continue to support enforcement of our existing laws.”

Like King, many House Republicans represent overwhelmingly white districts they are in no danger of losing to a Democrat. The only way this bill could get through is if House Speaker John Boehner again breaks the “Hastert rule” and brings up a bill opposed by most of the GOP caucus. There are enough House Democrats to pass immigration reform with only a few dozen Republican votes.

I have not yet seen any public statement from Republican Tom Latham (IA-03). Since he voted against the DREAM Act the Democratic-controlled House approved in late 2010, I assume he would oppose meaningful immigration reform this year.

Representative Bruce Braley’s office hasn’t sent out a press release on the latest proposals, but Braley discussed immigration reform on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program a few days ago. Excerpt:

Henderson: The President also mentioned immigration reform and specifically the so-called dreamers, children who were brought here who are now adults and giving them privileges.  What shape do you think immigration reform will take in Congress?  And what will you hope to vote for?

Braley: Well, I’m more optimistic than I have been in some time that Congress, republicans and democrats, will come together finally and pass comprehensive immigration reform.  And I’ll tell you why, Kay.  The American Farm Bureau recently had a meeting and talked about their top legislative priorities for the coming Congress.  It wasn’t the farm bill.  It was immigration reform.  And when I talk to dairy farmers in northeast Iowa they are struggling to find people willing to work the demanding jobs and the hours that that involves.  Seed corn companies in Iowa who used to depend on people like me to detassled corn as a teenager are having difficulty finding young people who are willing to do that type of demanding work.  So I’m hopeful that we can get beyond the partisan rhetoric of immigration reform and get down to practical solutions which I think the American people and most Iowans want to see happen.

Henderson: So does the fashion of this compromise appear to be giving the illegal immigrants who are currently here a pathway to citizenship, perhaps paying a fine, any back taxes?

Braley: That’s one of the biggest hang-ups we’ve had is this one word, amnesty.  Well, amnesty was a word on a lot of people’s minds at the end of the Vietnam War and it was, we’re going to allow you to avoid criminal prosecution without much in the way of accountability.  That is not what we’re talking about with immigration reform because here in Iowa people are arrested, they are charged with crimes, they are allowed to plead guilty, pay a steep fine, go on probation and if they meet certain conditions their record can be expunged under something called a deferred judgment.  Democrats, independents and republicans get that every week in this state.  So if we start looking at our solutions to immigration reform more like they, say you have to admit you broke the law, you have to be held accountable for that in the forms of a stiff fine and probationary, if you do anything wrong you’re out.  But we have to be looking for creative solutions that bring people together to solve this issue whether than driving them apart.

UPDATE: Tuesday’s Des Moines Register included this comment from Braley:

“Fixing our immigration system is one of the biggest challenges our country will face in coming years, and fixing that system won’t be easy. However, I’m encouraged by the work recently announced by the group of eight bipartisan senators, which includes comprehensive ideas that secure our borders and address undocumented immigrants who are already in our country.”

Representative Dave Loebsack declined to take a position on a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He sent this statement to the Iowa City Press-Citizen on January 28:

“As all Iowans know, our immigration system is broken and for too long politics has gotten in the way of commonsense reform. I was pleased to see that Senators from both sides of the aisle have come together to begin the process of immigration reform.

“First and foremost, I believe any immigration reform plan must secure our borders and enforce our laws. As a nation of immigrants, we need a system for legal immigration that actually works and that contributes to our economic growth while giving employers the tools to responsibly vet their employees and cracking down on those who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. However, the real test for any proposal will be what the House leadership will bring up for a vote. I strongly believe the status quo can’t continue, and I will continue to work with anyone on either side of the aisle to advance a serious proposal to finally fix the broken immigration system.”

UPDATE: The GOP-aligned Hispanic Leadership Network released an unintentionally hilarious strategy memo to Congressional Republicans: “Suggested Messaging Dos and Don’ts of Immigration Reform.” It’s worth a read.

Sarah Kliff discussed the possible impact of immigration reform on “Obamacare” in future years.

Kyle Munson wrote a feature for the January 29 Des Moines Register about Joe Crookham, a heavy-hitting Iowa Republican donor who worked behind the scenes to reverse the Branstad administration’s policy barring driver’s licenses to immigrants with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status.

“I get disappointed by a nation of immigrants that doesn’t put the time, energy and resources into an immigration policy,” Crookham said last week from his office that commands a panoramic view of Oskaloosa’s town square. “This is the only world these (DACA) kids know.”

Crookham says that he was among a team of eight – including three immigration attorneys and close friend Tommy Franks, the retired Army general who led the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of 9/11 – who lobbied the governor and other politicians hard on the driver’s license issue in the last month.

There was the usual grassroots uproar from pro-immigrant, non-governmental organizations in Iowa and across the nation. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCIS) released more explicit guidelines Jan. 18 clarifying that, yes, DACA immigrants should be considered lawfully present in the country. There was talk of a state law to fix the situation, with Branstad’s support for such a legislative move, as well as a request for the DOT to review its stance. […]

When Crookham weighs the issue with not his heart but his legal mind, he arrives at a similar answer: After letting the issue languish for so long, including a decade in which the Dream Act stalled in Congress as a political punching bag, the statute of limitations has run out, he says, on America’s right to deport these so-called “Dreamers.”

Denying them licenses became “essentially a profiling action on the part of the state.”

UPDATE: Still not a peep out of Latham’s office.

The Sioux City Journal’s Bret Hayworth talked with King, who is worried.

King said America needs a sound immigration policy, and three pieces proposed in the legislation fit for him —  toughened border security, “a legal process that is more efficient than the one we have” and giving employers better tools to determine if a job applicant has legal citizenship status, he summarized.

But the amnesty, with tepid enforcement, could be a dealbreaker for King: “The one I am troubled by the most is the path to citizenship.” […]

Said King, “This is a breathtaking reach, for the president and this group of eight senators, to announce that they want to grant citizenship to all people in the United States who are here illegally, provided that they didn’t commit serious crimes. Then they get to define what is serious. Of course, unlawful entry is not serious to them, perhaps petty theft is not.”

He concluded, “It is the lion’s share of 11 to 20 million people (King frequently uses that larger figure) being swept in and being granted citizenship — that is a breathtaking leap from previous immigration discussions.”

King said some Republicans will embrace the legislation, out of a misguided belief that the party needs to do more to appeal to Latinos at the ballot box in future elections.

Cracking down on businesses that hire undocumented immigrants is a popular talking point, but Dylan Matthews explains here that “workplace enforcement” will be a difficult nut to crack.

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