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Will Immigration Rights Advocates Accept A Promise As Currency?

TPM reports that immigrants rights advocates and their allies in Congress will not block health care legislation that could include harsh anti-immigrant provisions, so long as they extract a promise on comprehensive immigration reform.

Democratic leadership aides believe that a firm White House promise of a comprehensive immigration bill will be enough to quell any House dissent.

TPMDC sources have been telling us that members won’t admit it publicly but they are ready to concede on immigration in the health care bill. Political aides in the White House have told key parties in Congress that President Obama wants to see a bill this year, and negotiations are under way for how it would be written.

A source familiar with the negotiations between Congress and the White House told TPMDC the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will demand an agreement from Obama that health care coverage for illegals who earn a path to citizenship will be addressed in an immigration bill.

It’s kind of unclear who’s saying what here. Leadership appears secure that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus won’t block the health care bill. There are some anonymous sources claiming that, as trade, they will accept a promise to move on the immigration bill.

Keep in mind that comprehensive immigration reform which offers a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented workers would essentially defuse the most controversial piece of the health care bill. Under the Senate structure favored by the White House, undocumented workers would not be allowed to purchase insurance coverage on the exchange with their own money. If immigration reform passes, there will be no undocumented workers, at least in theory. And House-Senate negotiators have apparently reached a deal stripping the long waiting period for legal immigrants, making those who go through the path to citizenship potentially eligible for the exchanges as well as Medicaid. Democrats would have several years before the exchanges start up and undocumented immigrants would be effectively barred from insurance coverage, so an immigration bill could conceivably fix this inequity without a lapse.

I noted at the time that the CHC may try to get a promise instead of stripping out the language on undocumented workers:

My assumption is that the CHC will get a “promise” to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform in 2010, which would get around the issue of barring 11-12 million people currently in this country from the exchanges, at least over time. The legal immigrant/exchange issue still has to be addressed.

This does put a lot of pressure on the President and CHC members to deliver a controversial immigration bill during an election year, or risk losing the crucial Latino support which helped Democrats in 2008. Given the risk-averse nature of this White House and Nancy Pelosi’s vow not to tackle controversial subjects in the House without the Senate going first, it’s puzzling why the CHC would accept any kind of promise as an iron-clad guarantee to move to a bill.

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David Dayen

David Dayen