Comprehensive immigration reform, Gang of 8 style

Thus far, the track record for little bi-partisan “gangs” of Senate leadership has not been terribly encouraging.  The new Gang of Eight hopes to break the losing streak with a bipartisan immigration reform proposal, whose broad outlines were announced on Monday.

Fox News reports on the membership of the Gang of Eight, and the deal they have reached:

The eight senators expected to endorse the new principles are Democrats Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado; and Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

According to documents released early Monday, the senators will call for accomplishing four main goals:

— Creating a path to citizenship for the estimated illegal immigrants already in the U.S., contingent upon securing the border and better tracking of people here on visas.

— Reforming the legal immigration system, including awarding green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in science, math, technology or engineering from an American university.

— Creating an effective employment verification system to ensure that employers do not hire illegal immigrants.

— Allowing more low-skill workers into the country and allowing employers to hire immigrants if they can demonstrate they couldn’t recruit a U.S. citizen; and establishing an agricultural worker program.

To put this gang into perspective with a Sons of Anarchy analogy, Marco Rubio would be Jax, the idealistic young leader who might be in over his head.  Chuck Schumer takes the Ron Perlman role, while John McCain is Piney, and  Bob Menendez is Chuckie Marstein.

The group plans a news conference on Monday at 2:30 PM to formally introduce their proposals.  They are already facing calls for more details about how the more delicate aspects of their plan would work.  The “path to citizenship” is, of course, the most contentious aspect, but the other three aspects of the plan have plenty of critics as well.  For example, one group demanding more details is GetEQUAL, which wants to ensure that “important provisions that would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered immigrants, such as the Uniting American Families Act, will be included in a Senate bill.”

If that sounds like a bizarre tangent for the debate over legislation that will re-define the very meaning of American citizenship, well, you don’t know how Washington works.  And GetEQUAL’s description of the existing immigration situation is not uncommon among left-leaning groups: “The current criminalization of undocumented immigrants has resulted in almost two million deportations — more enforcement would only lead to greater pain in immigrant communities.  Our borders have become more militarized, leaving border communities in shambles and thousands dead trying to get to the U.S.”

Something tells me they won’t be thrilled about all the enhanced border security and visa tracking that our new “path to citizenship” will ostensibly be “contingent” upon.

The broader American populace is wrestling with two contradictory impulses:

1. It would be impossible, or at least ghastly, to round up the immense illegal population in the United States and deport them, and their current quasi-outlaw status is unacceptable, so a pathway to citizenship must be provided.

2. Rewarding people who break the law is wrong.

This is where Rubio comes in.  He’s the only prominent national figure who seems to take both points equally seriously, while enjoying enough solid support from conservatives and Tea Party Republicans to sustain a “national conversation” about reconciling them.  A Rubio aide made some interesting comments to Matt Lewis of the Daily Caller about how the Florida Republican’s presence has made the Gang of Eight deal much more conservative, saying “Senator Rubio really pushed this group to accept some conservative principles… he insisted that illegals cannot receive any federal benefits under the new reforms, and the security triggers are much stronger than any previous reforms.”

And that’s where Barack Obama comes in.  He’ll have his own demands later this week, and he’ll surely attack the Gang of Eight proposals from the Left.  He’s got room to make a far-Left bid for retaining the Democrats’ Hispanic constituency.  He’ll ensure the pathway to citizenship is more smoothly paved, with fewer “security trigger” speed bumps, and it will run right past the federal benefits office.  Surely Rubio and his Republican partners understand that even if such concessions are not demanded immediately, they will soon appear on the table, as today’s relaxation of immigration law becomes tomorrow’s unbearable source of “pain in immigrant communities.”

The establishment of a pathway to citizenship for the illegal alien population is virtually a fait accompli.  Republicans have come to the conclusion that no other “solution” to the problem is politically feasible, and making tough demands for stronger enforcement is political suicide – or, as John McCain delicately phrased it on ABC’s This Week yesterday, “What’s changed, honestly, is that there is a new, I think, appreciation on both sides of the aisle – including maybe more importantly on the Republican side of the aisle – that we have to enact a comprehensive immigration reform bill.”

Some say the Republicans are foolish to think they’ve got any real chance of capturing that Hispanic vote.  This is a game the Democrats will never tire of playing, especially since taxpayers provide the ante.  If the GOP proposed granting instant no-questions-asked citizenship for every illegal alien in the United States, they would soon find themselves described as heartless monsters for refusing to allow the new insta-citizens full access to the food stamp program, ObamaCare, and Social Security payouts.

But this is about more than wishful thinking or last-ditch defensive measures against a demographic tidal wave.  It’s the last chance for people who take the old model of citizenship seriously to make their voices heard.  Rubio is one of those people – he speaks unfailingly of citizenship as something that must be “earned,” something that conveys certain responsibilities upon the citizen.  He wants to implement some serious border security reforms, including some with profound national security implications, as part of the deal.  He insists that our new citizens will still have to meet some standards, preserving both the philosophical and practical right of the United States to set limits and requirements upon immigration.  He distinguishes between minors who were brought across the border unwillingly and the adults who brought them.  Among other things, he expects the adults to pay their back taxes.

You can look at every single conservative idea Rubio and his Republican colleagues have inserted into the Gang of Eight proposal and see the next “civil rights” battle taking shape to repeal it, just in time for the 2014 or 2016 elections.  But that works both ways, because it gives responsible American taxpayers – many of whom were not born on American soil – something to defend.  “Comprehensive immigration reform” is a road, not a destination.