White House officials have been visiting quietly on Capitol Hill in recent weeks to try to hammer out a compromise on immigration reform that can earn the support of the majority of Republican senators. The White House stepped into the debate earlier this month when negotiations between Sens. John McCain and Edward Kennedy, longtime immigration leaders, collapsed; the two senators were trying to draft a new immigration-reform bill that would be used to kick off debate on the issue this year.
U.S. News reporter Angie C. Marek has previously reported that Sen. Arlen Specter, among others, felt sidelined by the McCain-Kennedy negotiations and that progress on drafting a bill is being made much more quickly in the House.
The White House yesterday floated a PowerPoint presentation, obtained by U.S. News, that shows the outlines of the plan they've hashed out with Republican senators. The L.A. Times offered some new details about the negotiation process--and its frequency--in a story out this morning. They also added that President Bush views passing immigration reform as key to his legacy.
Marek says the new plan has made a lot of the White House's former allies in the immigrant-advocacy community mighty unhappy. Temporary guest workers in this plan would have a tough time getting any sort of citizenship. Under the visa program outlined by the White House, workers can stay in the United States for two years, at which point they'll have to return home for six months, a process that can be repeated two times.
The fee to gain citizenship for immigrants currently in the country illegally would also jump from a proposed $2,000 to about $10,000.
Tom Snyder, national political director of the union UNITE Here, compared the measure with a "21st-century version of the Bracero program" in a conference call with reporters today. And Laura Reiff, cochair of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, a business group that worked with the White House last year on the guest-worker proposals, called the measure "entirely unworkable."
"This is a clear departure," added Kevin Appleby of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, "from what the president promoted in his Oval Office speech [on immigration] last year."
Many experts say senators will continue to meet behind closed doors during the upcoming recess to try to reach a compromise that might be more palatable to Democrats and moderates.