Chuck Schumer floats 2017 immigration plan
By: Seung Min Kim
February 9, 2014 02:29 PM EST
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) floated a compromise Sunday intended to break the stalemate on immigration reform on Capitol Hill. It was immediately rejected by House Republicans, but key advocates said it is an option worth considering.
The Gang of Eight leader’s plan: Pass a law this year, but don’t allow it to actually start taking place until 2017 — when President Barack Obama leaves office. That’s meant to target the heart of House GOP resistance to taking up immigration measures this year — that they simply don’t trust Obama to implement the law, particularly provisions on border security and interior enforcement.
“Now I think that the rap against him — that he won’t enforce the law — is false,” Schumer said of Obama on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “He’s deported more people than any other president, but you could actually have the law start in 2017 without doing much violence to it.”
Though GOP complaints about the Obama administration and whether it will enforce any new laws have bubbled for months, those concerns took on new importance when Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week that it would be “difficult” to move forward on immigration until the president rebuilds that trust with House Republicans.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel threw some cold water on Schumer’s proposal, calling it “entirely impractical.”
The suggestion “would totally eliminate the president’s incentive to enforce immigration law for the remainder of his term,” Steel said Sunday.
The White House declined to take a position. “We’ve laid out our principles and we are now stepping back to see what, if anything, the House puts forward,” a White House official said.
Sen. Rob Portman, who appeared on “Meet the Press” with Schumer, said he thought Republicans could get on board with the New York Democrat’s idea. Portman voted against the Senate “Gang of Eight” legislation after failing to secure changes to the bill that would have bolstered workplace verification provisions.
“I think some Republicans would be interested in that, if we put in place the enforcement measures so that it would work,” the Ohio Republican said Sunday. “In other words, be sure the border is secure, be sure that you have a workforce enforcement program that works.”
The thinking behind Schumer’s plan is that even if current undocumented immigrants couldn’t become legalized until 2017, the administration could, in the meantime, focus on deporting immigrants who have committed crimes or otherwise would not meet requirements to apply for legalization if such a law were in place.
Under this plan, the administration would also be able to spend more of its resources focusing on new immigrants trying to cross the border illegally. And under the current Senate “Gang of Eight” bill, undocumented immigrants who entered the United States after Dec. 31, 2011, would not qualify for legalization, but Schumer would propose to change that date to Dec. 31, 2013, to account for the delay in the law going into effect.
“They’ve already established they don’t trust the president to enforce the law on immigration, but he’s going to be the president through 2016 whether we pass a law or not,” said Matt House, a spokesman for Schumer. “If they believe in immigration reform, why not get things moving for 2017?”
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said lawmakers should not reject Schumer’s proposal outright, noting that it would take a minimum of a year to 18 months to write regulations and do other procedural steps to prepare for implementation of new immigration laws.
Schumer’s plan could also help redirect the resources now being spent on immigration enforcement to target real security threats to the United States, Noorani argued.
“The policy details will be tricky, but it would be crazy to ignore the option,” Noorani wrote in an email Sunday.
Frank Sharry, executive director of pro-reform advocacy group America’s Voice, was also open to Schumer’s proposal.
“Schumer got us a huge bipartisan victory on immigration in the Senate by overcoming Republican objections and excuses,” Sharry wrote in an email Sunday. “He’s bringing that same problem-solving mentality to the House Republicans. Let’s see if they really want to get it done or are hiding behind a lame excuse.”
On “Meet the Press,” Schumer also argued against trying to do immigration reform in 2015 or 2016, saying that the legislative debate would be tangled up in presidential primaries and pull lawmakers to the right — making a compromise between the parties more difficult. Several House Republicans, confident that their party will take control of the Senate in this fall’s midterm elections, have proposed waiting until 2015 to do immigration reform.
“Let’s say to our Republican colleagues, ‘You don’t trust Obama? Enact the law now, but put it into effect in 2017, and we can get something real done for America,”’ Schumer said.