WASHINGTON — Four Democratic and four Republican senators formally unveiled a sweeping immigration bill Thursday at a news conference attended by traditional opponents from big business and labor, and conservative and liberal groups. The lawmakers argued that this time, thanks to that broad-based support, immigration legislation can succeed in Congress.
"Powerful outside forces have helped defeat certain other initiatives in Washington, but on immigration, the opposite is proving true," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said a day after senators under intense lobbying pressure blocked a major gun control package. "I am confident this issue will not fall victim to the usual partisan deadlock."
Support for the bill is already being put to the test as conservatives grow more vocal in opposition. Two Republican senators held a dueling news conference, with law enforcement officials bashing the bill's border security provisions and other measures, and several conservative bloggers seized on one provision of the legislation to falsely claim that it would allow people here illegally to get free cellphones.
The 844-page bill is designed to secure the border, allow tens of thousands of new high- and low-skilled workers into the country while requiring employers to verify their legal status, and put 11 million people here illegally on a path to citizenship, as long as certain border security goals are met first.
"Yes, we offer a path to citizenship to people who didn't come here legally," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., anticipating opposition to that provision. "They're here, and realistically there is nothing we can do to induce them all to return to their countries of origin. Many of them make valuable contributions."
In addition to Schumer and McCain, the members of the so-called Gang of Eight are: Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado, along with Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona.
The bill will get its first hearing Friday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Standing behind the senators at the news conference was a who's-who of Washington conservative and liberal leaders, representatives from religious groups, Latino activist organizations and others.
Before the senators came to the podium, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist shook hands with AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka, then exchanged pleasantries with Neera Tanden, head of the liberal Center for American Progress. They were joined by Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bruce Josten of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Clarissa Martinez of the National Council of La Raza and others.