Rubio is unlikely to budge on the cutoff. The Republican from Miami, already under fire from some conservatives for his role in the deal, pushed for a stricter 2008 cutoff date during negotiations with seven other Senate negotiators.
Changing the date now could upset the delicate compromise and add to myriad other issues threatening to throw off the momentum.
“We had a balance in this bill,” said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the lead Democratic negotiator. “Some wanted it to go much further back and others wanted it to be immediate. So I think we’re going to stick with that date.”
Asked what would happen to the people left out, Schumer implied they would return home, due to a “rough time” finding work because of new employee verification measures under the bill.
Mass self-deportation, however, seems as unlikely as hopes of eliminating the under-the-table economy that many immigrants now work in.
“If I don’t qualify, I plan to stay here just the same,” said Hernandez, who works odd jobs around Orlando that pay $6 or $7 an hour. “I wonder how they will deal with us. We are immigrants just like the ones that came here before, those who came four or five years ago. I came here to see if I could do better, and you can achieve more here.”
Octavio Ulloa, who traveled 15 days from Honduras across the Mexico border in March and eventually ended up in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, said he is not sure what he will do. “I hope they will show humanity and they understand that I’m not just asking this for me but for all of the people that are already on this side.”
The 20-year-old said he left Honduras after a man threatened the safety of his wife and daughter. His father arrived 10 years ago, his mother five years later. Neither are legal residents. “If it hadn’t been for the threats, I would have not come here,” Ulloa said in Spanish. “I apologize to the law and also to the government, so they have mercy on us. I ask them to give us an opportunity.”
Ulloa, who is considering seeking asylum, would just barely make the cut under an amendment by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., which sets the date in April, when the bill was introduced.
In an interview Blumenthal called Dec. 31, 2011, “completely arbitrary,” and cast his as fairer. “It’s based on a rational test, that’s the date the provisions were announced and people were put on notice.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., wants to make the date effective when the bill is signed into law. On the other hand, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, would push it back to 2009.
“The date we have is a pretty good date,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., part of the Gang of 8. “The reason we are legalizing the people here is we recognize they have ties to the community, they’ve been here a while. That can’t be said for somebody who arrived just this year.”
But critics of that approach say it will maintain a class of people who remain hidden, directly conflicting with underlying justification for legalizing undocumented residents. “It’s going to leave hundreds of thousands of people in limbo,” said Jaime Barron, an immigration lawyer in Dallas. “It’s highly unlikely they will leave. When you’re hungry, you’ll always find a way to find work,” he added, noting that many face bleak job prospects at home, or kidnapping and drug violence.