Rubio demands some immigration hearings, may delay amnesty bill

Neil Munro White House Correspondent

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has demanded public hearings on the pending immigration bill, complicating Democrats’ plans to rush the high-stakes measure through the Senate’s judiciary committee  by the end of April.

“A rush to legislate, without fully considering all views and input from all senators, would be fatal to the effort of earning the public’s confidence” in the pending bill, Rubio said in a March 30 letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of Senate judiciary committee.

Last week, Leahy announced that he intended to rush the draft immigration bill through his committee to the Senate floor without holding any hearings.

Democrats are rushing the bill because immigration advocates, including Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, say similar immigration bills failed in 2006 and 2007 when public opposition was gradually rallied by reform groups, such as NumbersUSA.

The pending bill is expected to include a multi-staged amnesty for at least 11 million illegal immigrants, plus their relatives — all of whom will eventually be eligible to vote and receive federal education, health care and retirement funds.

The bill is also expected to increase the influx of immigrant workers by roughly 160,000 workers a year, despite a national unemployment line of 20 million Americans and the accelerating replacement of unskilled American workers by new machines. (RELATED: How do immigrants fare in Obama’s economy?)

The bill is President Barack Obama’s top legislative priority.

It is not clear whether Rubio’s call for hearings is a determined pushback against Leahy and other Democrats, or if it is simply posturing to win a few unimportant hearings that may reassure some GOP voters who oppose the amnesty and guest-worker law.

Still, Rubio’s letter was backed by Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, who allied with five other GOP senators to demand hearings on the bill. (RELATED: Immigration issue prompts political posturing)

““I applaud Senator Rubio for his important letter to Chairman Leahy and for supporting the request for extensive open process and public hearings … a sound committee process will take months – not weeks,” said a March 30 statement from Sessions, who has vociferously opposed the bill’s guest-worker programs.

The bill is being drafted by Rubio and seven other senators, including New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Senate Democrat. It is almost complete, but Schumer has said he will not submit it until it has the approval of all eight senators, including Rubio.

If Schumer sticks to that promise, Rubio can delay the bill until Leahy grants whatever hearings Rubio requests.

But since he jumped into the immigration debate in January, Rubio has faced conflicting pressure from several important factions.  (RELATED: Sessions slams Leahy)

For example, Schumer has a strong political incentive to increase the inflow of immigrant Democratic-leaning Hispanics, and to embarrass Rubio, a possible GOP contender for the 2016 election.

Rubio is also pressured by business donors who back unpopular guest-worker programs, by the establishment media’s demand for an amnesty, and by the ethnic lobbies that wish to increase the inflow of their ethnic groups.

But those groups’ desire for lar-scale immigration clash with polling data showing middle-class voters and GOP primary voters oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants and the guest-worker programs sought by business, the media and ethnic lobbies. (RELATED: Immigration group says polls on the issue are all wrong)

Rubio’s letter ignores many of those issues, and only calls for hearings on the security protections at the U.S.-Mexican border.

“I cannot urge strongly enough that such a discussion start with meaningful hearings … [and] a full consideration of border security proposals, including testimony from border security experts, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and others,’ said Rubio’s letter.

However, roughly 40 percent of illegal immigrants come via airports, not the Mexican or the Canadian border.

Rubio’s letter did not call for hearings on other controversial matters, such as the long-term cost of the amnesty effort, the planned influx of roughly 160,000 guest-workers each year, whethter employers are required to check job-applicants eligibility, or the federal government’s failure to track illegal immigrants who fly into U.S. airports and overstay their tourism, education or work visas.

In contrast, Session’s statement demanded hearings on many elements of the immigration bill.

“Topics addressed in the hearings should include the following … [how the bill will] impact the wages of American workers and job prospects for the unemployed … how to guarantee that enforcement is accomplished before legalization is granted [and] whether illegal aliens will eventually, like current green card holders, become eligible for a vast array of federal benefits,” Sessions wrote.

Rubio’s letter did revive his call for a so-called “trigger” that would delay the award of citizenship to immigrants until border-security provisions are met.

“The success of these triggers will require examining what the American taxpayer’s commitment must be in order to make this security plan a reality,” he wrote.

However, Democrats has recently embarrassed Rubio by saying the bill will not include a trigger.

Democrats’ opposition to triggers and hearings creates a political headache for Rubio, who is widely expected to run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

In January, Rubio reassured conservative opinion leaders, such as Rush Limbaugh, that he would not support a bill that lacks triggers, or that didn’t get a proper public hearing.

“I don’t want to be part of a process that comes up with some bill in secret and brings it to the floor and gives people a take it or leave it. … 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.”

Rubio also told Limbaugh that a bill granting immigrants’ access to Obamacare and other welfare programs “blows a hole in our budget and makes this bill undoable.”

However, Democrats recently voted down a proposal by the GOP to exclude new immigrants from Obamacare.

Rubio’s letter also avoided the issue of guest workers, which has been the subject of many media articles during the last two weeks.

The bill reportedly includes measures that would provide work permits to 11 million illegal immigrants, even though roughly 20 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed.

It would also provide up to 200,000 work permits for unskilled workers each year, plus work permits for 85,000 professionals, and unlimited numbers of visas to foreigners who enroll in American universities’ post-graduate schools.

Currently, the federal government provides work permits to roughly 150,000 temporary workers each year, not counting agriculture workers. The nation accepts approximately 1 million immigrants each year, most of whom are relatives of unskilled immigrants. (RELATED: Are older immigrants imposing too great a cost on American taxpayers?)

Large-scale immigration tends to lower wages and job opportunities for American blue-collar workers and university graduates who compete directly against the immigrants.

But large-scale immigration also tends to increase company profits and the wealth of people who do not compete against the immigrants.

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