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Durbin: 'very good' chance for immigration revamp including DREAM provisions

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 28, 2013 - WASHINGTON – Joining a bipartisan group of senators who outlined an ambitious immigration overhaul plan, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Monday that prospects were good this year for the first major reform of the nation’s immigration laws in decades. “We’ve been down this road before, but I feel very good about our chances this time,” Durbin said at a news conference in the Capitol. He called the initiative “a good, solid starting point for making certain that we fix the system – and that we come up with a long-term approach that is fair.”

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,; also expressed optimism, in part because of changing views on immigration by many GOP lawmakers who saw in the last election that “Republicans have been losing the support of our Hispanic citizens.” Despite continued opposition to aspects of the immigration overhaul among some Republicans in both the House and Senate, McCain predicted that “we will succeed” – in part by avoiding the “mistakes of 1986,” when an amnesty program legalized millions of undocumented immigrants without stemming the flow of new illegals. Missouri's senators were noncommittal, saying they would closely examine the compromise proposal once its details were clarified in legislative language outlined by Durbin and the bipartisan group of seven other senators included a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally, ramped-up border security and a reformed legal immigration system. The four main pillars would be to:

  • Establish a “tough but fair” path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in this country. That path, similar to the DREAM Act provisions that Durbin has championed for a dozen years, would be contingent on securing U.S. borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;
  • Reform the nation’s legal immigration system to recognize better the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;
  • Create an effective employment verification system to prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and,
  • Improve the process under which future workers are admitted to this country to serve workforce needs, but also include measures to protect all U.S. workers.

Aside from Durbin and McCain, the other senators who helped develop the proposal are Democrats Chuck Schumer of New York, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina, Jeff Flake of Arizona.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, took no position Monday on the immigration blueprint, saying through a spokesman that he "is looking forward to learning more about the proposal."

Both Durbin and Schumer emphasized that a main principle that the group agreed on is that future flows of immigrants would be linked to employment opportunities in this country.

Durbin said the senators wanted to make sure “that the amount of legal immigration is based on the state of our economy ... We are going to enshrine the principle that ... Americans get the first grab” at job openings.

Durbin, the No. 2 ranking Senate Democrat, is a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will consider the immigration bill. The bipartisan group of eight senators has been working since shortly after the November election to develop a series of principles to guide comprehensive immigration reform. They reached agreement over the weekend.

McCain told reporters that “there has not been anyone in America who has fought harder for the so-called DREAMers than Dick Durbin has.”

Noting that he has been fighting for a dozen years for the DREAM Act – which would grant a path to citizenship for some of the 11 million Americans who live in this country without legal documents – Durbin said the wider bipartisan initiative also would give such residents “their chance to earn their way to citizenship. It won’t be easy. It’ll take them some time and determination.”

Obama pleased by bipartisan progress

Durbin and Schumer went to the White House on Sunday to present the outline of the initiative to President Barack Obama, who they said was pleased with the compromise. Obama is expected to outline his own immigration priorities in a speech Tuesday in Las Vegas.

“It’s a set of principles that mirror the president’s principles,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday. “This is the beginning of a process, at least in terms of legislation that needs to be crafted and voted on and hopefully signed by the president.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called the framework a “positive first step” and pledged to work to gain Senate approval. Under the plan outlined by Schumer, the outline would be converted to legislative language by March, refined in the Judiciary Committee this spring and perhaps debated in the full Senate by late spring or summer.

An important player in the debate will be Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who said Monday that bolstering border security and overhauling immigration laws constitute a “crucial objective that our nation needs to address.” However, he stopped short of endorsing the new framework.

Missouri’s senators said they would closely examine the immigration plan once it is defined in legislative language, probably by March.

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she would “take a hard look at this proposal over the next few weeks.” In a statement on Monday. McCaskill said, “There's no doubt, our immigration system is broken. And we need a solution that strengthens America's economy, and respects the rule of law.”

McCaskill added: “Any bill that earns my support must build on our recent success in bolstering border security, punish employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, and include consequences for those who came here illegally.”

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said through a spokeswoman on Monday that he would “review the details of this plan with an eye towards addressing three critical challenges: first securing our borders, then fulfilling our legitimate workforce needs, and determining how we deal with people who overstay.”

In an interview last week, Blunt outlined the main points of what he would like to see in a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

“There are three different immigration problems,” Blunt told the Beacon.

“One is securing the border; two is what are the legitimate workforce needs of the country; and three is what do we do with people who either came here without documents or – as often as not – stayed without documents.”

Said Blunt: “I think that Nos. 2 and 3 are fairly easy to solve if you ever convince people that you had a real handle on No. 1.”

While Blunt said that “looking at the actual border is important,” he added that authorities trying to block illegal immigration “could make even greater gains by figuring out innovative and better ways to look at the border that’s the hiring desk -- put in real penalties for people that are hiring illegals.”

The solution, Blunt observed, would have to involve “a legitimate way to figure out who” is legal and who is not. “Everybody would have to have some level of identification that they don’t have now.”

Durbin said it was about time that the nation’s “broken” immigration laws were revamped. “This nation of immigrants has been debating the issue of immigration since the first group got off the boat and wanted to know why the second group was coming,” he said.

When he was first elected to the Senate 16 years ago, Durbin said, “one of the first phone calls I received was from Ted Kennedy,” asking the Illinois senator to work with him on immigration issues. “Time passed, another 16 years, and we still have a broken immigration system, with 11 million people living in limbo.”

Noting that “it’s been 12 years since I introduced the DREAM Act,” Durbin said he “never gave up, because when you meet these young people you just can’t give up.”

The last time the Senate defeated the DREAM Act, Durbin said he met with a group of DREAMers in the Capitol and told them, “I’m never giving up on you. Now don’t give up on us.”

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