Searching for common ground on immigration reform

The immigration reform plans issued this week by President Obama and a bipartisan group of Senators share some of the same goals but have some key differences as well, as both sides prepare for what may be a difficult battle on how best to deal with illegal immigration in the U.S.

Let’s see how they overlap, and how they don’t.

Both plans envision a path to citizenship for the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants who are already in the United States, but they get there differently.

Both sides would give those illegally in the U.S. a temporary legal status while they wait to move on to possible citizenship.

But for Senators, that path to citizenship is contingent on several different efforts to prevent more people from entering the country illegally, like tougher border security measures, a crack down on businesses that hire illegal workers and reforms to the visa entry and exit system.

The President’s plan also talks about tougher border security measurs and getting tough on employers who still hire illegal immigrants – but that is not a condition for a path to citizenship.

So there are some similarities there in the overall goals, but it would be a speedier process seemingly under the President’s plan.

“I am concerned by the President’s unwillingness to accept significant enforcement triggers before current undocumented immigrants can apply for a green card,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), one of the eight Senators who reached the bipartisan immigration agreement.

Democrats, meanwhile, were a bit more focused on the overall message of the President.

“Today the President made it clear that fixing our broken immigration system is a top priority of this administration,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who worked out the Senate immigration framework with Rubio and others.

One priority of both parties is to improve the system for legal immigrants; the President focused his changes on keeping families together and adding overall visa numbers, while the Senators also looked at a better guest worker program.

You can go through both plans and find a lot of common ground – but everyone knows on Capitol Hill that there is a difference between broad themes and fine print in a bill.

“The last time between talking points and legislation, things kind of broke down,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told me off the Senate floor.

“The details really matter on something like this,” Corker added.

Or as a Chamber of Commerce official told me years ago: “What the big print giveth, the little print taketh away.”

And now, the work will have to start to forge that fine print.

One interesting note about that is the committee with jurisdiction on immigration in the Senate is the Judiciary Committee – that’s the same panel that also has jurisdiction over guns and gun violence.

So between the President’s gun control and gun violence plans and illegal immigration, it will be a busy next few months for that Senate committee.