House Republicans are close to unveiling their framework for overhauling the nation’s immigration laws.
The document, which could be released this week at the conference’s annual retreat in Maryland, will test the party’s willingness to tackle key reforms and could serve as a blueprint for future immigration bills.
We’re not certain what will be included, but here are the most important things you should look for:
1. Can undocumented immigrants become citizens?
House Republicans rejected the Senate’s immigration bill, in large part because it grants a separate legal pathway for undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship.
According to The New York Times, the GOP framework will include a more limited legalization program for the country’s 11.7 million undocumented immigrants. Many would be eligible to earn legal status, while those brought to the U.S. as children — known as DREAMers — could pursue full citizenship.
While the middle road of providing legal status for undocumented immigrants might appease some House Republicans, it would not be welcome news for immigrant-rights activists and Democrats, who are committed to citizenship. Only a small number of the undocumented population would be eligible for citizenship under existing paths to permanent residence.
2. How tough are the “triggers” for legalization?
In order to satisfy Republican lawmakers, the Senate’s immigration bill included border-security standards, or “triggers,” that would have to be met before undocumented immigrants could earn citizenship.
Democrats were able to stomach those triggers because they allowed immigrants to obtain temporary legal status while the security measures were put into place. But many GOP border hawks said the Senate’s plan did not go far enough.
The House Republican outline is expected to include its own triggers. The Times reported that the plan will “demand that current immigration laws be enforced before illegal immigrants are granted legal status.”
Triggers that are too tough may cause concern among Democrats and immigration advocates. They have long worried that triggers could block legalization if they contain vague border security benchmarks.
A solution that could satisfy both parties could lie in a border security bill drafted by Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas). That proposal would require the government to implement a border-security strategy within five years, including proof of a 90 percent effectiveness rate in stopping unauthorized border crossings.
House Democrats embraced that plan in their own immigration bill, so it already has bipartisan support. But we’ll have to wait and see how the House GOP leadership proceeds.
3. Should the country bring in more temporary labor?
When the “Gang of Eight” in the Senate — four Democrats and four Republicans — drafted their immigration plan last year, one of the most contentious issues centered around low-skilled workers.
The senators chose to outsource the negotiations to two major lobbying groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, representing business interests, and AFL-CIO, representing organized labor.
After months of deal making, the two sides agreed to a pact that would create between 20,000 and 200,000 visas for temporary workers. The visa numbers would fluctuate based on economic factors, and immigrants working on those visas would not be permanently walled off from the chance to eventually establish permanent residence, as with past guest worker programs.
But Republicans in the House may not embrace the guest-worker deal. If that happens, it could upset the delicate balance between business and labor interests.
“We have made it perfectly clear to Congress that a deal is a deal,” said Ana Avendaño, the AFL-CIO’s director of immigration and community action. “It was carefully crafted, it represents a very fragile balance of several important interests, in a way that comes out actually protecting workers’ rights, wage standards and allows businesses flexibility that they sought.”
4. Do we need tougher immigration enforcement in our communities?
Immigrant-rights advocates say that deportations are tearing families apart, but some House Republicans think we need to bolster enforcement in cities and towns across the country.
In particular, a bill introduced by Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) last year would ramp up immigration policing on the state and local level.
The “Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act,” also known as the SAFE Act, would allow state and local authorities to enforce federal immigration laws, along the lines of SB 1070 in Arizona (for the record, that law was mostly nullified by the Supreme Court).
The bill would also take away the ability for the Department of Homeland Security to grant deportation relief to certain immigrants, including young undocumented people brought to the country through no fault of their own.
If House Republicans adopt this enforcement stance in the SAFE Act, it will cause a major conflict with Democrats and probably even some centrist Republicans. This could be a deal killer.
5. What’s next?
Releasing the principles will spark a fierce debate among Republicans, Democrats and immigration activists. But it provides no guarantee that House Republicans will press forward with a series of immigration bills this year.
“On Thursday, we'll have a discussion about immigration reform; we're going to outline our standards, principles of immigration reform and have a conversation with our members,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters on Tuesday. “And once that conversation's over, we'll get a better feel for what members have in mind.”
Will the principles spark a backlash from the Republican rank-and-file? Longtime immigration hawks like Steve King have shown no signs of letting up. And they’ve been joined by others who have lost their appetite to tackle the issue due to political concerns.
“I personally think this is the wrong time from our standpoint to go forward on immigration,” Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), a former member of a bipartisan group that was drafting an immigration overhaul in the House, recently told Roll Call. “It’s an election year. I mean Texas is in the middle of primaries right now.”
Either way, the principles could revive an issue that was long thought to be dead on Capitol Hill.
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.