Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, unveil their bill dubbed the "Achieve Act." It allows illegal immigrants brought to the USA as children to remain and apply for citizenship over time.(Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images)
WASHINGTON -- Republicans and Democrats emerged from the fall
elections agreeing on at least one thing: that it was finally time for
both sides to come together to fix the nation's broken immigration
But judging from the first week of legislative action on
immigration, figuring out how to do that will be a contentious battle
between, and within, the two parties.
On the Republican side,
Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas introduced a
bill that grants illegal immigrants brought to the country as children a
series of visas to remain in the USA for years. That bill, known as the
"Achieve Act," requires immigrants to go to the back of the line to
apply for green cards and, eventually, U.S. citizenship, a requirement
not supported by Democrats and immigration advocates.
senators' pitch was followed Thursday by debate on the House floor on a
proposal from GOP Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas that increases the number
of visas for highly skilled immigrants. Smith's bill would cut a
diversity visa program that brings in 55,000 people a year from mostly
African countries, another requirement opposed by Democrats and
"Incredibly tone-deaf," said Frank Sharry,
executive director of America's Voice, a group that supports the
legalization of the country's illegal immigrants. "What the election has
shown is there's real juice, there's real power behind the movement to
win citizenship for immigrants who are Americans in all but paperwork."
was referring to the success that President Obama had with Hispanics,
winning that vote 71% to 27% over Republican challenger Mitt Romney,
Pew Hispanic Center statistics show.
Mark Krikorian, executive
director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which opposes widespread
legalization, said Republicans need to reach a compromise on the issue
of young illegal immigrants to show they're "serious and engaged in the
debate." But, he said, interpreting the election results as a mandate to
legalize all illegal immigrants is "laughable."
"I understand the
tone-deaf story line, but it's baloney," he said. "Republicans just
aren't doing what the Democrats want them to do."
Congressional Hispanic Caucus - a group of 21 Democratic members of
Congress - on Wednesday outlined their priorities, which included a
pathway to citizenship for the nation's illegal immigrants and more
visas for families, highly skilled immigrants and "guest workers." All
of that, they believe, should be done in one sweeping bill.
is disagreement even within Republican circles on how to approach
immigration bills during the lame-duck session and in the new Congress
that convenes in January.
Some conservatives, like Sen. Marco
Rubio, R-Fla., say it's best to tackle the problem piecemeal. Rubio has
been drafting legislation to address the young illegal immigrant
population. From there, he would tackle border security, ways to
screen job applicants to ensure they're in the country legally and the
refinement of the nation's guest-worker program, which allows
non-citizens to work in the U.S. for a while before returning home. Only
when that is finished would he address the fate of the nation's
illegal immigrants, Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said.
Some in his party disagree with that strategy.
have a window of opportunity to fix this problem, and I think it has to
be fixed in its entirety," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, who
has been meeting with members of both parties to craft a solution.
Democrats, including President Obama, agree on that point. The White
House issued a statement Wednesday saying it supports some aspects of
Smith's bill for highly skilled immigrants. But the administration made
clear it opposed the bill partly because it did not address the
immigration system as a whole.
"The administration does not
support narrowly tailored proposals that do not meet the president's
long-term objectives with respect to comprehensive immigration reform,"
the statement read.
The road to an immigration solution likely
will be rocky, but many are encouraged that the debate is taking
place. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., has been working on immigration
legislation for years and remembers a time when his Democratic
colleagues were uncomfortable tackling the subject. He recalled caucus
meetings where he and a few others were the lone voices calling for
"We stood alone sometimes in the corner," he said. "All of
the sudden, we're the belle of the ball. We're here to say it's time to
start the dance."