Immigration Reformers Eye Gang of 8 Revival

Seung Min Kim and Burgess Everett, Politico, July 5, 2016

Lindsey Graham doesn’t sugarcoat his prediction: Republicans are going to get thrashed in the November election, especially among Latinos. And it’s going to trigger another run at immigration reform in Congress next year, the South Carolina senator says.

“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do in 2017,” the plainspoken GOP deal maker said in a recent interview. “I’m going to take the Gang of Eight bill out, dust it off and ask anybody and everybody who wants to work with me to make it better to do so.”

Graham isn’t the only one eyeing a revival of the Gang of Eight, the bipartisan group of senators that shepherded a sweeping immigration bill through the Senate three years ago only to watch it stall in the House a year later. Propelled by a Republican establishment eager to make inroads with minority voters after losing them by steep margins in the 2012 election, it was the closest Congress came in a generation to overhauling the nation’s immigration laws,

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{snip} Several GOP senators from Latino-heavy states–such as David Perdue of Georgia and Thom Tillis of North Carolina–were elected in 2014 and are eager to dig into the issue.

At the same time, immigration advocates are laying the groundwork for a reform push in 2017. They’re having conversations with lawmakers and holding events away from Washington meant to cultivate support on the ground, particularly among conservative constituencies, for immigration reform.

“The hour [when] we can move it, we’ve got to move it,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), another member of the Gang of Eight, which formed after the 2012 election. “If they don’t [understand the urgency], we’ll do another autopsy after the next election and we’ll determine we’ve got to do it.” He was referring an in-depth review of what went wrong for Republicans in 2012 that implored the party to improve its standing among Latinos by embracing immigration reform.

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Another dilemma is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). A rising star in the Republican Party when he was recruited to join the Gang of Eight more than three years ago, he backed away from his signature legislative achievement when he ran for president this year.

“I don’t believe that a comprehensive approach can pass, nor do I believe at this point, given everything that’s transpired, that it’s the right way forward,” said Rubio, who recently announced he would run for reelection. That was a position he stressed repeatedly during his presidential bid when the conservative base accused him of backing “amnesty.”

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If the Senate takes up immigration reform in 2017, the chamber will face a notably different makeup than the body that passed the Gang of Eight bill by a 68-32 vote in 2013. The 2014 midterms ushered in a new class of Republicans, and a handful of them seemed keen in interviews to take up immigration next year, regardless of which party controls the Senate.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) says he’s interested in bolstering visas for high-skilled workers. Perdue, a former businessman, stressed the need to overhaul the legal immigration system to boost the economy. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who hails from a heavily Latino state, said he’s optimistic there could be a bill-by-bill approach that appeals to both parties.

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It’s far from certain, though, that another reform push would get any farther than last time. Win or lose in November, Trump has demonstrated the potency of the issue among the Republican base; GOP lawmakers will be wary of crossing that constituency. Plus, Republicans are heavily favored to retain control of the House.

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