The Ticket

Parties unite on immigration, but the ‘devil’ lurks

Chris Moody, Yahoo News
The Ticket

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Bipartisan group of senators announce agreement on immigration reform (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

It was a rare moment of unity for an institution known for bickering and partisanship, but the plan introduced Monday by a bipartisan Senate task force outlining a path forward on comprehensive immigration reform was just vague enough to bring Republicans and Democrats together. For now.

On Capitol Hill Tuesday, members of both parties heaped praise on the task force's achievement of putting forth a blueprint for immigration reform, which will soon be translated into legislative jargon and introduced on the Senate floor. It's that second step that has lawmakers nervous, and a phrase spoken throughout the Capitol sums up their concerns: "The devil is in the details." Almost everyone is excited about the general outline for immigration reform, but the ecstasy pales in comparison to the fear of what the bill may actually entail when it finally reaches the floor.

"We've got to see the legislation. We've got to see it in writing. There's always the devil in the details, and I know that more than anybody around here as old and crusty as I am," said Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who added that he was pleased by the initial proposal. "It all depends on the details of the bill. I've seen bills that have had wonderful-sounding names that turn out to be terrible pieces of crap."

At this early juncture, details are understandably scant. The outline put forth Monday by four Republicans and four Democrats merely pointed to agreement on a set of principles that they hope will survive the grueling legislative process to come. The early product includes a quick path to legal residency for young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents as children. There is a provision that forces those who crossed the borders illegally as adults to pay fines and pass tests in return for temporary work visas, which could lead to permanent residency and, many years later, to citizenship. To quell concerns over "amnesty," the blueprint includes strong language in favor of mandating specific border enforcement goals. If the whole thing makes it through both chambers of Congress and past the president's desk, the bill will be the most far-reaching immigration overhaul in a generation.

In a speech delivered in Nevada Tuesday afternoon, President Barack Obama demanded swift action on the issue. But for a bill of this potential size, everyone must be patient. Already on Tuesday, the senators who crafted the blueprint were constantly bombarded by reporters armed with endless hypothetical questions, pressing them for details: How will you know when the border is actually secured? Exactly how many visas will be issued under the new law? Will gay illegal immigrants be given the same spousal rights as straight illegal immigrants?

"We have not gotten that far yet," said Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, a member of the working group, after being peppered with questions. "This is thrown out by people who think we've gotten into these kinds of details, which we haven't. I'll be engaging in those discussions."

"We haven't even started the conversation about specifics," said Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, another member of the group.

The Senate and the president, of course, aren't the only ones who will have a final say on the bill. Whatever the Democrat-controlled upper chamber comes up with eventually must be reconciled with a bill that passes the Republican-majority House of Representatives.

Like the Senate task force, a secretive bipartisan group of House lawmakers has met privately for months to discuss a bill that can pass through their chamber and receive support from both parties, a source familiar with the meetings confirmed to Yahoo News. The House task force, which includes Republican Reps. Sam Johnson and John Carter of Texas, Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and Democratic Reps. Xavier Becerra and Zoe Lofgren of California and Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, intends to introduce an outline similar to the blueprint unveiled by the Senate.

In an interview, Diaz-Balart declined to discuss any details of the House group's meetings, but he said the Senate plan was "compatible" to the principles he supports for a comprehensive immigration bill.

"I'm very encouraged by what the Senate has done because I think it's compatible to what a lot of us believe has to happen," Diaz-Balart said. "I think in the House you're going to see very similar ideas emerging. I think reasonable people who want to solve it—not just raise Cain about it—but who want to solve it, are going to reach very similar conclusions."

"The devil," he added, "is in the details."

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