Immigration Compromise Difficult to Forge

David Martin talks with Lynn Neary about a compromise plan for immigration legislation. Martin is Professor of Law at the University of Virginia.

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LYNN NEARY, host:

As the immigration debate continues, there is talk that a compromise may be in the works. President Bush is considering a proposal that would put new border security programs in place before creating a guest worker program, or a pathway for illegal immigrants to become citizens.

Here to discuss that proposal is David Martin. He's a law professor at the University of Virginia, and he joins me on the line from Charlottesville.

Good morning. Thanks for being with us.

Professor DAVID MARTIN (Professor of Law, University of Virginia): Good morning. Thank you for having...

NEARY: First of all, what do we know about the details of this proposal?

Prof. MARTIN: Well, we don't know a lot about the details. The arrangement seems to be to implement the enforcement portions of the legislation first, and then have certain triggers written into the law that would begin implementing the other key features: the so-called path to citizenship, a kind of earned amnesty, really; and the ongoing guest worker program that could bring as many as 200,000 per year here to take jobs on a time-limited basis.

NEARY: What are the benefits of an immigration plan that addresses enforcement first, and then deals with these other ideas: a guest worker program, pathway to citizenship?

Prof. MARTIN: Well, the political benefits seem to be - seem to derive from an effort to address one of the main objections to any kind of an amnesty, or a path to citizenship. Many of the opponents of the Senate bill say we've been down that path before.

In 1986, we adopted an amnesty that was supposedly joined with new enforcement measures. It was joined with new enforcement measures, but the enforcement proved not very successful. That was a new system for employer screening. Employers had to check documents but it hasn't been - it hasn't worked well because of the availability of false documents.

The idea now is to say, well, let's test the new enforcement measures, but have some solid signs that they are working before we go into the other provisions of the law, the path to citizenship and the guest worker program.

NEARY: Well, there is some speculation, also, that the White House might give up on this whole idea of providing a means for illegal immigrants to get legal citizenship, and that instead they would go for a guest worker program with this enforcement element. So presume that's because that would be more politically viable, I...

Prof. MARTIN: Well, yes. The idea is it would be more politically viable that -and if they would back off altogether from the path to citizenship, that would lose an important part their constituency that has favored the Senate approach. It's a complicated politics, as it always is on immigration. But for some who look to the comprehensive approach, because they're concerned primarily about providing status for a number of the people who are here now, there's also a constituency based in business that really favors the guest worker approach.

The White House started out, primarily, with a guest worker approach, saying they didn't favor any kind of amnesty combined with some improved enforcement. And enforcement is popular. Enforcement measures that are generally similar do appear now in both the bills. As we get closer to the November elections, there will certainly be some additional pressure on members of Congress to show that they've done something. And so the House is pushing for that side.

I think those who favor comprehensive reform are looking for a compromise that would make sure this particular political moment is used to put into a place some sort of guarantee, even if triggered later of the other elements of the package.

NEARY: And when did that trigger - I mean, what - how does it work? If enforcement comes first, what would signal the moment to begin the other programs?

Prof. MARTIN: Well, we don't have details on that. There have been some proposals that say it should be triggered based on input. That is, when we reach a certain number of Border Patrol officers, may be a certain amount of money that has been applied to the new employment screening system, that's supposed to be a lot more secure because it includes a call-in verification, or computer verification.

Others say no, we should have essentially output measurements. We should not trigger the other elements until there are measures that show that new inflows have declined or a certain number of people have left because they can't successfully find jobs. All those are very hard to design, and very hard to measure. So it's a very tricky proposal.

NEARY: Yeah. Details that still have to be worked out, I guess. Thanks so much for being with us.

Prof. MARTIN: Thank you.

NEARY: David Martin is a professor of law at the University of Virginia.

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