Schumer redefines immigration deal, cuts out Rubio’s insistence on border security

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer on Monday applauded Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio for helping craft a blueprint for a bipartisan rewrite of immigration law.

But on Thursday, Schumer dropped a political anvil on him by gutting his part of the overhaul.

Rubio joined Schumer’s Jan. 28 announcement of deal because it was built on Rubio’s proposal to pair citizenship awards for roughly 11 million illegal immigrants to an independent group that would declare when the border is secured.

But on Jan. 31, Schumer redefined the deal during a press conference, embarrassing Rubio, who is a potential GOP candidate for the White House in 2016.

“In our blueprint, or what we’ve talked about, I don’t know if [a border-security trigger] is explicitly in the blueprint,” he said.

“We set up a committee of border-state people, [and] the purpose of that committee is to get input from them, to have them be part of the process, for them to understand that we’re not going to roll over them, but get a great deal of input.”

“What we’ve proposed is that the [federal Department of Homeland Security] secretary —- whomever it is —- will have final say” on when enforcement is deemed sufficient to begin awarding citizenship to illegal immigrants, he said.

Rubio’s press aides downplayed the differences. “The [Jan. 28] principles were clear that the commission would be an important metric towards verifying that the border is secure,” said press aide Alex Conant. “The senators are writing actual legislation. If that legislation does not include real security triggers, including the input of border officials and law enforcement, then Sen. Rubio will not support it.”

Schumer’s rejection of Rubio’s trigger plan wasn’t a surprise to the immigration reformers who believe Democrats and their allied ethnic lobbies want to invite many Democratic-leaning Hispanic immigrants into the United States.

“Schumer revealed what we suspected all along — there was never any sincere commitment to real enforcement on the border and enforcement of immigration law,” said a Senate staffer.

Most immigration reformers want Congress to pass several modest reforms that would gradually strengthen immigration enforcement on the border, at airports and in workplaces. In contrast, President Barack Obama, Schumer and ethnic lobbies want Congress to develop a big “comprehensive” bill that would rewrite large sections of immigration law.

Some of the criticism aimed at Rubio was on the record.

“I just think he’s amazingly naive on this issue,” Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter said Jan. 30 on Laura Ingraham’s radio show. (RELATED AUDIO: Vitter calls Rubio “nuts”)

Rubio signed on to the deal — and joined Schumer at a Jan. 28 press conference —- before the trigger plan was detailed by Schumer’s staffers.

During a Jan. 28 appearance on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, Rubio said the trigger was not fully developed.

“The only way that I know to guarantee that [enforcement] happens is to use it as a trigger, to basically say that the path towards a green card does not begin until we can certify that the border is secure, that workplace enforcement method is in place, and the visa tracking system is in place,” he said.

“I think the [independent] commission is a critical part of that,” he said. “Whether they issue recommendations, whether they judge whether that’s the case, that’s one of the things we’ll have to discuss … we need to figure out their role, but it has to be [a] valuable role,” he said.

The next day, Jan. 29, Rubio toughened his language during an appearance on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show.

“If, in fact, this bill does not have real triggers in there, if there is not language in this bill that guarantees that nothing else will happen unless these enforcement mechanisms are in place, I won’t support it,” he said.

“The principles clearly call for that. Now, obviously, we have to make sure the law does, too,” Rubio said.

Schumer’s denial of any trigger comes two days after President Barack Obama began publicly pushing for a process that would include no hindrances to illegal immigrants’ path to citizenship.

“For comprehensive immigration reform to work, it must be clear from the outset that there is a pathway to citizenship,” he told a Las Vegas rally of cheering Hispanic students.

“This is not just a debate about policy. … It’s about men and women and young people who want nothing more than the chance to earn their way into the American story,” he declared to applause.

Once an immigrant become a citizen, he has full access to legal rights, welfare and health-care programs, grants and subsidies, the ballot box and the right to seek residency rights for relatives.

Eligible relatives include the new citizen’s parents and minor children, as well as siblings. In turn, once those people are admitted, they can petition to win green cards for their relatives.

Schumer echoed Obama’s priorities on Thursday.

“We are not using border security as an excuse or block to path of citizenship,” he said in the press conference.

The blueprint’s call for a secure border will help make a deal, but won’t be linked to citizenship awards or be allowed to block or trigger citizenship for illegals, he said.

“We just want to make sure, this is very important both substantively and politically, that there is a secure border, [but] we are not going to use it as a battering ram to prevent the 11 million from gaining a path to citizenship.”

Schumer also shot down a suggestion that an outside group — such as a panel of state governors — could be given the power to decide when the border is  secure.

That decision, sometimes dubbed a “trigger,” can’t be delegated to a committee, he said.

“It would be unconstitutional to delegate things to that committee,” he said.

He downplayed worries that a White House-appointed DHS secretary would begin the amnesty before the committee was convinced the border is secure.

“The advisory committee and the DHS will in all likelihood agree” when the border is secure and the 11 million can get citizenship, he said.

However, Schumer was happy to praise Rubio for his role in the deal.

“I want to also really praise Sen. McCain, Graham and Rubio, for their leadership, their strength, their courage …. [and] I look forward to working with them.”

Follow Neil on Twitter