WASHINGTON – Four Democratic and four Republican senators formally unveiled a sweeping immigration bill Thursday at a news conference attended by traditional opponents from big business and labor, conservative groups and liberal ones. The lawmakers argued that this time, thanks to that broad-based support, immigration overhaul legislation can succeed.
“Powerful outside forces have helped defeat certain other initiatives in Washington, but on immigration, the opposite is proving true,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said a day after senators under intense lobbying pressure blocked a major gun control package. “I am confident this issue will not fall victim to the usual partisan deadlock.”
Support for the bill is already being put to the test as conservatives grow more vocal in opposition. Two Republican senators held a dueling news conference with law enforcement officials to bash the bill’s security provisions, and several conservative bloggers seized on one provision of the legislation to falsely claim that it would allow people here illegally to get free cellphones.
The 844-page bill is designed to secure the border, allow tens of thousands of new high- and low-skilled workers into the country while requiring employers to verify their legal status, and put 11 million people here illegally on a path to citizenship if certain border security goals are met.
“Yes, we offer a path to citizenship to people who didn’t come here legally,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., anticipating opposition to that provision. “They’re here, and realistically there is nothing we can do to induce them all to return to their countries of origin.”
In addition to Schumer and McCain, the members of the so-called Gang of Eight are Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona.
The bill was to get its first hearing Friday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Standing behind the senators was a who’s-who of Washington conservative and liberal leaders, representatives from religious groups, Latino activist organizations and others.
Before the senators came to the podium, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist shook hands with AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka, then exchanged pleasantries with Neera Tanden, head of the liberal Center for American Progress. They were joined by Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bruce Josten of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Clarissa Martinez of the National Council of La Raza and others, around two dozen all together.
Many of the advocates and senators present were veterans of past failed efforts at reform, most notably in 2007, when legislation pushed by then-President George W. Bush collapsed on the Senate floor.
Asked why an immigration overhaul would succeed this time, McCain turned and pointed to the advocates.
“This is a coalition. I never thought I’d be standing with Richard Trumka,” McCain said. “This is why we will succeed.”