WASHINGTON — Legislation to revamp the nation’s immigration process that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants is being crafted behind closed doors on Capitol Hill prompting criticism from some Republicans for the lack of transparency.
A bipartisan group of senators called the “Gang of Eight” has been working behind closed doors to draft the new policy for several months.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was expected to offer the first briefing to his fellow Republicans during their weekly policy lunch in the Capitol Tuesday but was a no show. Other members of the “Gang of Eight” scrambled through the waiting throng of reporters afterwards to avoid answering questions on the cancelled briefing or the plan’s details.
“I’m very optimistic,” allowed Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), after being literally cornered by reporters. “We’re not there yet but I think we’ll get there sooner rather than later.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was a little more forthcoming: “I think we will be probably be discussing it tomorrow.”
In addition to Rubio, Graham and McCain, the gang includes Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
The private discussions on legislative reforms began with predawn meetings in the Senate gym between Rubio and Durbin and were first reported in early February.
The lawmakers said they would reveal a final omnibus bill in March, but the process has been repeatedly delayed. Schumer predicts the legislation will be introduced this week, Republicans privately predicted it might be another week before the details finally emerge.
The secretive nature of the process prompted a demand from key Republican Senators serving on the Judiciary Committee that they be briefed this week on the plan’s details as well as all concessions made to Democrats.
“Because the president has failed to lead on this matter, your group has secretly met for months and not consulted with members of the committee about major changes to our nation’s immigration laws,” said a letter to the GOP members of the gang signed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and several other Republicans. “The time for transparency has come.”
The letter also requested that the entire Republican caucus be briefed – the event that was cancelled at the last minute yesterday.
In particular, the letter said the Republicans are concerned about recent revelations that the Obama administration refuses to address border security standards fearing that it will interfere with a legalization program.
“These actions have further eroded the American people’s confidence that the government will carry out its duty to enforce laws. We should not further test the faith of the American people by implementing a major overhaul of the immigration system that prioritizes legalizing law breakers over the long-term needs of the country,” the letter said.
Additionally, the lawmakers want details on a new temporary worker program, border security, worksite enforcement, and the impact of such a large-scale legalization effort on American workers and taxpayers.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters yesterday that his caucus is eager to learn about the final contents of the bill.
“All I can say about immigration at this point is that I think there is a bipartisan interest in moving the issue forward. We’ll have to see what it looks like, when we get it,” McConnell said.
The Heritage Foundation also renewed pressure on the “Gang of Eight” to release the legislative language announcing this week that it will soon publish its own report on the projected cost of legalizing 11 million new citizens.