If immigration reform passes Congress, the law will almost certainly have a way to allow those in the country illegally to eventually become citizens. But the bill, as it is written, contains a number of enforcement and border security benchmarks that must be met before the path to citizenship is opened for the 11 million or so illegal immigrants currently in the United States.
Two senior senators in the so-called Gang of 8 told reporters Thursday morning that Americans should not worry that the promised enforcement measures will not be implemented.
But what would happen to the path to citizenship if the federal government failed to reach those benchmarks? “It doesn’t start,” said Arizona Republican John McCain at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “[Illegal immigrants] remain in a legal status until we comply with all of the requirements that they have to comply with personally and the requirements for a secure border. Look, in 1986, I voted for Simpson-Mazzoli under our beloved Ronald Reagan. Three million people in this country illegally, we’d amnesty them and we’d never face this problem again. Now we have 11 million people here illegally. I’m not going to stand for a third wave.”
“I agree with John,” said Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat. “I’ve always said the American people who support commonsense, balanced solutions to illegal immigration and the 11 million who are here if and only if they are convinced there won’t be a third wave, a future wave, of illegal immigration. And our bill is stronger, much, much stronger, than anything that’s been envisioned. As for the border metrics, they are very real.”
Saying the increased enforcement mechanisms “will work,” Schumer added that they are “achievable and concrete.”
“These metrics, I believe, are going to really be more effective than people think,” he said. “We are going to secure the border.”
And if they aren’t met and the border isn’t secure? Schumer didn’t have an answer. “I think that’s moot. They’re going to be met,” he said.
McCain added: “If, after five years, we have not met those requirements, we will be in a convention, and they will spend additional monies. If they do it right, I am totally confident.”
“There is no way of getting this job done without giving people a path to citizenship,” McCain insisted. “A legal status is not something that someone should have to remain in unless they want to, and to say that you can have a legal status but you can’t have ever a path to become a citizen in this country, I [think] offends our fundamental principles of fairness in our society.”
Schumer was more direct when he said that an immigration package without a path to citizenship would “unequivocally” not pass the Democratically-controlled Senate. “It’s a non-starter,” Schumer said. “For the Hispanic community, it’s a non-starter. I would say for most Democrats, it’s a non-starter.”
“I don’t think it would get a Democratic vote,” he added.