Lowry: Schumer plays immigration just right
Everyone presumes that Sen. Chuck Schumer, the media-hungry Democrat from New York, wants to be the next Senate majority leader. His performance in the negotiations over the Gang of Eight immigration plan should bolster his case for an eventual promotion.
Schumer has been at the center of crafting a bill for a mass amnesty of undocumented immigrants that has high-profile, bipartisan support and a chance of becoming law. He had the shrewdness to realize what he needed to do to make the bill viable.
If you are going to have any hope of passing a sweeping amnesty bill in a divided Congress, you need a conservative Republican with credibility with the party's base willing to go out and aggressively advocate for it. If he is a potential front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, all the better.
You need bells and whistles about triggers and enforcement so the aforementioned conservative Republican can portray the bill as a toughening of the nation's immigration laws.
But, to make it palatable to your own side, you need a near-instantaneous amnesty before anything else meaningful happens.
Check, check and check. Even the most incorrigible Schumer critic has to concede: Well played, Senator, well played.
Schumer rightly recognized the importance of keeping on board Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been tireless and fearless in making the case for the Gang of Eight's approach. The muted reaction of the right to the bill is a testament to its fondness and respect for Rubio.
Schumer managed to hold Rubio and win his grudging respect, while selling him a lopsided deal. Rubio traded amnesty although he refuses to call it that for an enforcement plan on paper and a commission to be named later.
Under the bill, no additional enforcement has to take place before undocumented immigrants get legalized. The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security merely has to come up with a strategy for enforcement and notify Congress that it has commenced. It doesn't matter if it is a good, bad or indifferent plan, so long as it is a plan. Then, an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants get legal status.
The bill stipulates that we will establish a 90 percent effectiveness rate at catching people trying to cross the border in five years. If that goal isn't achieved, then a bipartisan border commission swoops in to take charge and come up with its own report and recommendations. And if the commission fails to produce these recommendations within 180 days, well then, the bill demands that the Department of Homeland Security come up with yet another border-security plan!
Schumer's genius is to have placated Rubio not just with promises, but with new versions of old promises. Rubio touts the bill's mandate for the creation of an exit-entry tracking system, a key piece of the puzzle of controlling who comes here. Congress first mandated the creation of such a system in 1996.
It is one thing for Congress to make earnest assurances about wonderful things that will occur in the future. It is quite another for them to occur. In 2001, Congress congratulated itself for passing the No Child Left Behind Act that quite sincerely said all students yes, all students would achieve proficiency in reading and mathematics by the 2013-14 school year.
If the Gang of Eight bill becomes law, a natural political dynamic will take over. Denying any undocumented immigrant newly legal status will seem arbitrary and unfair, and so the notionally tough requirements for legal status will be only loosely applied. Pro-amnesty advocacy groups and the business lobby will work to undermine enforcement in the courts and in Congress. And the new argument against Republicans will become that they are alienating Latino voters by insisting on an inexcusably drawn-out process for formerly undocumented immigrants to get citizenship (and become voters).
No doubt, Chuck Schumer has already thought all this through. That's why he's Chuck Schumer.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)