Immigration Reform 2013: Meet the 8 Senators Leading the Charge On Immigration Reform


Just last week, President Obama threatened to have Congress vote on his more liberal immigration reform plan if they could not compromise on a plan internally. In the wake of this announcement emerged the "Band of Eight," a group of 8 senators who are working towards a bipartisan solution. In addition to spanning the political spectrum, the group also offers a wide breadth of experience and varying personal backgrounds. So, who are the men (yes, all men) who will possibly write history? Meet them – and their agendas – below.  

1. Marco Rubio, (R-Fla.):

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

While many think of Graham and McCain as the Republican leaders on immigration reform, Rubio is the clear standout in this particular round. As a relative newcomer on the scene, he isn’t associated with the failed 2006 immigration proposal, and he also hasn’t flip-flopped on the issue to secure reelection like many of his older Republican counterparts. As a Tea Party favorite, Rubio is also taking it upon his shoulders to convince the brash talking heads (Hannity, Limbaugh, etc.) and radical Tea Party politicians that it’s time to support both heightened border control and a pathway to citizenship. If immigration reform is proposed and passed, Rubio will be given a sturdy platform for the 2016 presidential race.

2. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.):

Photo Credit: Glenn Fawcett

Schumer, in addition to being chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, is known as a clutch negotiator. Last week, he spoke to reassure skeptics that while the Band of Eight was focusing on a metric-based system of border control, the border security requirements would not impede the eventual path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Last week, Schumer politely disputed Rubio’s plan for a "trigger" – which gives the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security the right to determine when the borders are secure enough to allow for awarding citizenship to illegal immigrants. This issue – on how to measure border security and when to begin allowing amnesty – continues to be a hot-button issue within the Band of Eight. It is also highly important for securing Republican votes in favor of the reform.

3. Dick Durbin (D–Ill.):

Photo Credit: U.S. Senate

Like Schumer, Durbin has been a supporter of the DREAM Act for over a decade. When asked last week if the new right’s willingness to find common ground on immigration was really just a reflection of Republican need for Hispanic votes in the future, Durbin deflected, stating, "We ought to do this to help 11 million people who are living in the shadows."

4. Robert Menendez (D–N.J.):

Photo Credit: U.S. Congress

As the son of Cuban immigrants and the only Latino Democratic Senator, Menendez has been a longtime advocate of immigration reform. Last week, Menendez stated that the Band of Eight was working to propose a system that would favor individuals who were waiting under the legal immigration system, but would not exclude undocumented immigrants from a path to citizenship. Menendez has argued that immigration reform should be considered as an economic issue, but also says that "For Latinos and other immigrants, this is the civil rights issue of our time."

5. Jeff Flake (R–Ariz.):

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

As a first-term Senator, Flake is considered an intellectual heavyweight when it comes to immigration. Flake angered party officials and anti-immigration groups in 2011 when he doubled down on his centrist views, saying, "Nearly half of those who are here illegally didn't sneak across the border. They came legally and have overstayed. So border security is the number one item, but you've got to do other things as well." Eventually, Flake faked hard right in this same campaign, focusing on a security-first platform that appeased the Republican establishment. However, now that he’s been re-elected and the sea has calmed, his background as a bipartisan champion will be invaluable as the group works to secure votes on both sides.

6. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.):

Photo Credit: U.S. Senate

Bennet narrowly beat out an anti-amnesty Tea Party candidate in his 2010 election bid, and it’s likely that Colorado’s growing Latino population helped him secure the victory. As an advocate for the Hispanic and farming communities that make up a large number of his constituents, Bennet has recently warned that compromise (in the forms of border control and the pathway to citizenship benchmarks) should not be viewed as failure.

7. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.):

Photo Credit: Kai Moerke

Back when his party strictly forbid immigrant-friendly policy (just three months ago), Graham was cheekily dubbed "Lindsey Grahamnesty" by Rush Limbaugh. Graham’s views have ebbed and flowed over the years, but he has also predicted for years that strict anti-immigration policies would doom the Republican party. All the more impressive is that his last two reelection campaigns (2008 and 2014) have perfectly coincided with his authorship of pro-immigration bills. While other red state senators (*cough* McCain *cough*) have 180’d on the issue in order to secure reelection, Graham has said he’s prepared to lose while standing for his ideals on this issue.

8. John McCain (R–Ariz.):

Photo Credit: Chitapra

Good news, you guys! McCain is feeling super mavericky these days. However, while he’s seen as a leader in the Senate when it comes to immigration, he’s done so much flip-flopping (remember "Complete the danged fence?") on the issue that he also can’t be the one leading the pack when it comes to securing Republican votes. (That’s where Rubio’s fresh face comes in.) All jokes aside, McCain’s evolving views on immigration actually do echo the Republican party’s; now that McCain isn’t facing reelection and the establishment is back on his side, he’ll be an invaluable member of this team from a media standpoint. Hold back the grimace, Johnny. Hold it back and it’ll all be okay.