WASHINGTON -- Senators from the eight-member working group on immigration reform did their best on Monday to walk the thin line between two very different camps: one that decries almost all legalization of undocumented immigrants as "amnesty" and another that views such a pathway to citizenship as absolutely necessary to legislation.
They took pains to assure the public that a pathway to citizenship won't be easy. "This will be an arduous pathway, but it will be a fair one," Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) told reporters at a press conference. Republican Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) emphasized the group's insistence that the border be secure before green cards are doled out.
But they still gave plenty of fodder to people on the right who view any pathway to citizenship as "amnesty," by insisting repeatedly that immigrants will become legal on day one -- if only provisionally.
"Immediately when the bill passes, people who are here living in the shadows would get a legal right to stay here and work," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, going on to explain the requirements to be met before undocumented immigrants could become permanent residents.
Schumer, Menendez, McCain and Rubio are part of the "gang of eight" on immigration reform, which also includes Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). The four-point framework unveiled on Monday would require border and enforcement measures to kick in -- although it is not clear how -- before immigrants with provisional status can receive green cards. A group of governors, citizens and others from along the U.S.-Mexico border will be given some say -- although it's not clear how much -- on when the border can be defined as secure and additional aerial surveillance and border agents will be installed.
The senators said they hope to introduce legislation in March or April and then hold a vote by late spring or early summer.
The existence of the pathway in proposals for reform is vitally important to many, and stands to be among the most contentious issues as reform talks go forward. Rubio's support for the framework is notable in part because he has previously been wary of a pathway to citizenship, including by saying last week that unions and the left could kill immigration reform by demanding such a pathway exist in the bill.
Rubio denied changing his view, telling reporters Monday "the principles are very similar if not the same" as his prior statements on immigration reform.
The senators said they are more optimistic than ever that they can pass immigration reform, despite previous failures. McCain gave a nod to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), with whom he worked on comprehensive immigration reform in 2006 and 2007, saying passage would be a testament to his work. The senators said on Monday that their framework is very similar to that of the McCain-Kennedy plan, which fell apart under bipartisan disagreements.
The senators said the politics have changed since then to the point that immigration reform has another chance, pointing to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's crushing defeat in November among Latino voters, who by and large support comprehensive immigration reform.
In the end, though, they admitted there are some lawmakers who are un-gettable. "We're not going to get everybody on board," McCain said.
There was one bad sign for the bipartisan group: one of its original members, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), declined to sign on to the framework. He said in a statement that he remains "greatly supportive of what the group aims to accomplish" and that he plans to keep working on the issue. But in the end, the pathway to citizenship policy chosen by the group seems to have been a deal-breaker.
"These guidelines contemplate a policy that will grant special benefits to illegal immigrants based on their unlawful presence in the country," Lee said. "Reforms to our complex and dysfunctional immigration system should not in any way favor those who came here illegally over the millions of applicants who seek to come here lawfully. Additionally, the framework carves out a special exception for agricultural workers that has little justification."
President Barack Obama will lay out his own framework for comprehensive immigration reform in a speech on Tuesday, his first such address to focus on the issue since beginning his second term. But the senators said they were not trying to preempt Obama.
"We think this is helpful for the president," McCain said. Durbin added that Obama knew their plans to announce a deal, and told them to go for it.
Earlier Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney dodged questions about whether Obama could support a proposal that ties citizenship to border security. Instead, he emphasized the similarities between the Senate proposal and the kind of reforms backed by the White House.
The fact that the Senate proposal is bipartisan and includes a path to citizenship "is a big deal," Carney said during his daily briefing. "This is an important development."
It remains unclear whether Obama will push his own bill versus a general outline for the kind of reforms he supports. Carney wouldn't say either way when asked about the strategy.
The House could be the biggest issue on immigration reform, given the Republican majority and a vocal group of politicians who have remained insistent that the president wants amnesty and has failed to police the border.
House leadership expressed some interest -- if vague -- in at least looking at the Senate group's plans. A spokesman for John Boehner, Michael Steel, said, "The Speaker welcomes the work of leaders like Sen. Rubio on this issue, and is looking forward to learning more about the proposal in the coming days."
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the House immigration subcommittee, said in separate statements that they are open to considering such suggestions for dealing with the immigration system.
"The current immigration system is broken and inspires confidence in no one," Gowdy said in a statement. "So, proposals which balance the humanity which defines us as a people with respect for the rule of law which defines us as a republic are welcome."
House members working behind the scenes on a deal are still being coy about their plans, but Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) hinted Monday that a plan from the lower chamber is likely to be similar to the broad framework laid out by a bipartisan senate group.
Though he declined to say outright whether the House will take the same principles for immigration reform, Diaz-Balart told HuffPost he thinks the Senate "gang of eight" plan sounds reasonable.
"I don't care if you're from the extreme right or the extreme left, reasonable people will reach very similar conclusions, very similar solutions, I should say," he said. "I think that's what you're seeing. Those of us who have been working on this for years and others who have more recently started looking at it I think are reaching very similar conclusions."
Of course, as Diaz-Balart said, "the devil is in the details." The "gang of eight" hopes to release a bill in March, and a House group is working separately on its own legislation. Until then, there will be many specifics to be ironed out.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), an outspoken supporter of reform who serves on the House immigration subcommittee, said in a statement that Congress is "on track to pass a bipartisan bill this year."
"All of the pieces are falling into place," he said. "We have not signed on the dotted line and some important details are yet to be resolved, but what we have now is momentum."
Jennifer Bendery contributed reporting.
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The Naturalization Act of 1790
The Naturalization Act of 1790 was our country's first set of laws dealing with citizenship. Applicants had to be "<a href="http://rs6.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsl&fileName=001/llsl001.db&recNum=226 " target="_hplink">a free white person</a>" of "good moral character." This excluded indentured servants and slaves. Good moral character was substantiated by establishing residence for at least one year in the state from where he was applying, and at least two years of residence in the country. The Naturalization Act of 1795 would extend that requirement to five years, and is still standard today.
The Fourteenth Amendment, 1868
A Reconstruction Amendment that was added to the U.S. Constitution following the Civil War, the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment establishes for the first time that children born on U.S. soil would be conferred U.S. citizenship regardless of their parent's citizenship status, race, or place of birth. Last year, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) introduced the <a href="http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/hr140 " target="_hplink">Birthright Citizenship Act of 2011</a> to Congress, and challenged this. The bill would require that at least one parent be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident for a child to be granted citizenship. According to the <a href="http://www.opencongress.org/bill/112-h140/text " target="_hplink">bill's text</a>, the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2011 would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, and "clarify those classes of individuals born in the United States who are nationals and citizens of the United States at birth." Prior to this, Rep. Nathan Deal (R-GA) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/26/nathan-deal-georgia-lawma_n_207485.html " target="_hplink">introduced</a> a similar <a href="http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h1868/show" target="_hplink">bill</a> in 2009.
The Naturalization Act of 1870
The Naturalization Act of 1870<a href="http://thepoliticsofimmigration.org/pages/chronology.htm " target="_hplink"> explicitly extended</a> naturalization laws to "aliens of African nativity and persons of African descent." This meant that for the first time, African-American children would be conferred citizenship upon birth. Asian immigrants and other people of color are excluded per the Naturalization Acts of 1790 and 1795.
The Page Act of 1875
Named after Republican Representative Horace F. Page, this is the first U.S. federal immigration law to explicitly prohibit the immigration of a particular group: persons of Asian descent. Primarily meant to limit Chinese immigrant labor and prostitution, the Page Act prohibited the immigration of: (1) contracted labor from "China, Japan, or any Oriental country" that was not "free and voluntary," (2) Chinese prostitution and (3) criminals and women who would engage in prostitution. Ultimately, the <a href="http://www.uchastings.edu/racism-race/pageact.html " target="_hplink">Page Act</a> severely <a href="http://immigration-online.org/228-page-act-united-states-1875.html " target="_hplink">restricted</a> the immigration of Asian women. Only 136 of the the nearly 40,000 Chinese immigrants who arrived in the months before the bill's enforcement were women. And, it would pave the way for the Chinese Exclusion Act. In this picture, Michael Lin, chair of the 1882 Project, a coalition of rights groups seeking a statement of regret over that year's Chinese Exclusion Act, speaks on May 26, 2011 in Washington, DC, at the US House of Representatives in front of a reproduction of a 19th-century sign that aimed at rousing up sentiment against Chinese Americans. Lawmakers introduced a bill that would offer an official statement of regret for the act, which banned further immigration of Chinese to the United States and ended citizenship rights for ethnic Chinese. (AFP PHOTO/SHAUN TANDON).
The Chinese Exclusion Act, 1882
Signed by President Chester A. Arthur, the <a href="http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/resources/archives/seven/chinxact.htm " target="_hplink">Chinese Exclusion Act</a> was the first federal immigration law to prohibit immigration on the basis of race. The bill barred all Chinese laborers, skilled and unskilled, from immigrating to the U.S. for ten years. It was made permanent by 1903, and was not lifted until the 1943 Magnuson Act. The 1898 Supreme Court <a href="http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/immigration/exclusion.html " target="_hplink">decision</a> in <em>United States v. Wong Kim Ark</em> finally extended naturalization laws to persons of Chinese descent by ruling that anyone born in the United States was indeed a U.S. citizen. This editorial cartoon from 1882 shows a Chinese man being excluded from entry to the "Golden Gate of Liberty." The sign next to the iron door reads, "Notice--Communist, Nihilist, Socialist, Fenian & Hoodlum welcome. But no admittance to Chinamen." At the bottom, the caption reads, "THE ONLY ONE BARRED OUT. Enlightened American Statesman--'We must draw the line <em>somewhere</em>, you know.'" (Image Source: Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, vol. 54 (1882 April 1), p. 96. [Public domain], via <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_only_one_barred_out_cph.3b48680.jpg" target="_hplink">Wikimedia Commons</a>).
The Naturalization Act of 1906
The Naturalization Act of 1906 further <a href="http://www.understandingrace.org/history/gov/eastern_southern_immigration.html" target="_hplink">defined</a> the naturalization process: the ability to speak English was made a <a href="http://www.enotes.com/topic/Naturalization_Act_of_1906" target="_hplink">requisite</a> for immigrants to adjust their status.
The Immigration Act of 1924
U.S. President Coolidge signed this U.S. federal <a href="http://history.state.gov/milestones/1921-1936/ImmigrationAct " target="_hplink">bill</a> into law. It capped the number of immigrants who could be admitted entry to the U.S. and barred immigration of persons who were not eligible for naturalization. And, as the Naturalization Act of 1790 required, an immigrant had to be white in order to naturalize. The quotas varied by country. Image Source: Flickr Creative Commons, <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/nycmarines/6306315902/" target="_hplink">NYCMarines</a>.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (The McCarran-Walter Act)
The <a href="https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:zwaVG82lZisJ:www-rohan.sdsu.edu/dept/polsciwb/brianl/docs/1952McCarranWaltersAct.pdf+&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESjEwx76FIBTixZAfyncZz-1CSuSeciv5qB6vvWTrUfW58XRpXq8zkpnI57XSuuG5Bu-WSySGbEhxYvZxP7y6qDQuOsDhgDa6qUqUaJ8F4imTzKJsVtppHc_-eew2dK6vGhoIUZs&sig=AHIEtbTNQ5GFiNMVS-xyThq8VVSj_gG9KA " target="_hplink">McCarran-Walter Act</a> kept up the controversial Immigration Act of 1924, but <a href="http://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/ImmigrationAct" target="_hplink">formally</a> ended Asian exclusion.
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965
When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, it <a href="http://library.uwb.edu/guides/USimmigration/1965_immigration_and_nationality_act.html" target="_hplink">abolished</a> the quota system that favored immigration from Europe and limited immigration from Asia and South America.
Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996
The 1996 <a href="http://www.uscis.gov/ilink/docView/PUBLAW/HTML/PUBLAW/0-0-0-10948.html " target="_hplink">Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act</a> (IIRIRA) is a piece of legislation that <a href="http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/1996_illegal_immigration_reform_and_immigrant_responsibility_act.html " target="_hplink">defined</a> an array of issues to do with legal and illegal immigration -- from outlining how border patrol agents should administer visa processing, to the minutiae of how to handle deportation proceedings -- IIRIRA established enforcement and patrolling practices.