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Bipartisan Group Agrees To Overhauling Immigration


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

We have a clearer picture this morning of just what an immigration overhaul might look like.

INSKEEP: A bipartisan group of senators is spreading word that they have agreed on principles for change.

MONTAGNE: The proposal would include a pathway to citizen for millions of people now in the U.S. illegally. Republicans have led the opposition to that change, up to now, commonly calling it amnesty.

INSKEEP: Republicans who favor the change, like Senator John McCain, were forced to back off for years. But now, McCain is among the group of Democrats and Republicans that is trying again.

Let's talk this over with Cokie Roberts who joins us most Mondays. Cokie, good morning.


INSKEEP: How big a deal is this?

ROBERTS: Oh, it's a big deal. This is a substantial group of senators. It includes Marco Rubio of Florida, where I am right now. And he is a darling of conservatives, so to have him support something that calls for a legalization of the more than 11 million illegals who are in the country now is something that is very significant.

Now, you know, we're dealing with here is an election. We had an election, as you might remember, and in it more than 70 percent of Hispanics voted for the Democrat and so did about three-quarters of Asian voters. So, you've got Republicans taking a lot of notice.

But they want to say before any citizenship, first border enforcement. And they would create some new commission of governors, law enforcement officers, community leaders to say that the borders are secure. And then they want to have an exit system that would track people who come into our airports and seaports, to make sure that they don't overstayed their visas.

And then there are some provisions that young people who were brought in as kids would have an easier path to citizenship; so, the people who already got a pass from the president temporarily last year. Farm workers would also have an easier path. The employers would have to verify much more strongly the legal status of their employees.

So there's a lot here. And there's likely to be quite an argument over exactly what steps need to be taken for citizenships and how long it will take. And Senator Rubio is saying anybody who is here illegally has to go to the back of the line, behind the people who are you going through the process.

INSKEEP: OK. So dealing Republican concerns about security, then getting a pathway for citizenship - that's the formula. And the senators seem to have gotten out ahead of the president, who's also planning to talk immigration this week.

ROBERTS: He's going to make a speech in Las Vegas tomorrow. There's been some discussion reportedly among Democrats and the White House about whether it's good to have the president out front on this. There's some sense that anything with the president's name on it, is so poisonous to some Republicans that it just becomes a problem. For instance, Obamacare.

And the president was struck with the showed the movie "Lincoln" and the stars from the movie were at the White House, that not one Republican showed up, answered his invitation to come, because it's become a problem for them. As he said in his press conference, you know, somebody has - or Republican has his picture taken with the president and he gets a primary challenge.

So, you know, he's not quite sure what to do on this. He wants to get his supporters out working for the bill. And if he wants that he has to take the lead, but it could become a problem to get it passed.

INSKEEP: OK, so these bipartisan senators - this bipartisan group of senators has a proposal. It would also have to pass the House. I was talking with a leading house Republican a couple of days ago who said they've made all sorts of subtle preparation for this - speakers they chosen at their recent Republican retreat, members of committees that will be dealing with this have been chosen with immigration in mind. But is the House really ready to sign on to this?

ROBERTS: Very tough, Steve. You know, we've talked about those House districts that are drawn to be very, very safe for Republicans. But the problem there is then they can get a challenge from their right, from people who are adamantly opposed to citizenship for aliens and people who are here illegally. And so, they really are going to have to work it hard.

If speaker Boehner wants to pass it, he's going to hope for a strong vote in the Senate with a lot of momentum coming into the House. And then do a bipartisan vote there with very few Republicans, probably. You know, it's possible that these very safe congressional districts secure the Republican House majority but becomes a problem for the party brand as a whole.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much. That's Cokie Roberts who joins us most Monday mornings. And she joins us on this Monday when a bipartisan group of senators has been talking about a framework for immigration changes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.
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